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Helping People Move from Homelessness to Stability and Sustainability

by Jaime J. Romo, Ed.D.

“If you bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will be your salvation. If you do not bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will destroy you.” – From the Gnostic Gospels

     It began for Chris and Tammy Megison in 1999.

     Confronted with the heartrending reality of infants sleeping on the floor of an emergency winter shelter, the Megisons recognized the inadequacy of their community’s homeless response system and decided to do something about it.

     That “something” was Solutions for Change, the embodiment of their vision of solving family homelessness.  As described on their webpage (www.solutionsforchange.org):

 “That vision was different in that it did not include more shelter beds, feeding programs or traditional human services, but rather an audacious plan to create access to permanent solutions using a hybrid model that the couple developed.  All the parents being helped would work, pay rent, attend onsite workshops and classes and be engaged in a dynamic coaching system.  The model, now known as the Solutions University, blends affordable housing, educational opportunities, employment training and health related solutions all within one cohesive strategic partnership.  There is but one goal:  work with this community to solve family homelessness for kids and communities, permanently.  By doing so, the futures for kids could be transformed.”

     Two years later, the first year-round family shelter opened.  In 2003, a 33-unit Solutions Family Center (SFC) opened; two years later, an affordable housing initiative began with the acquisition of 10 homes for graduate families to rent.  SFC’s goal for 2012 is to house 200 families in a 1,000-day program, including job training, childcare, an organic farm and ‘Books for Real Change’ business, wherein residents re-sell donated books and media on Amazon.

     SFC residents come from around San Diego County, from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.  They experience what some call a boot camp, a highly structured phase in which they demonstrate responsibility and work ethic, then advance to living in a more private residence (all the while participating in various support, educational and psycho-educational programs) then to finding jobs outside SFC and, finally, to independent living.

     To date, Solutions for Change has led over 600 families to a permanent solution, at an estimated savings of more than $32 million in tax dollars. During the 1000 day program, as parents learn or re-learn the skills and strategies they need to succeed, their children are enrolled full time in school and given tutoring and other needed assistance to make up for lost time- something they do readily once provided the stability of a home and a nurturing environment.

     It began for me in 2012.

     A little background first.  I have been directly involved with child sexual abuse prevention and intervention with survivors for a decade. In recent years, as a Commissioned Minster for Healing and Healthy Environments, I have focused on helping church members and leaders create safe and healing communities. Most recently, I have trained in Trauma Incident Reduction, which I have found to be a tremendous catalyst for eliminating the toxic symptoms of trauma and allowing a survivor to more fully benefit from psycho educational and spiritual resources.

     Approximately two months ago, I offered a presentation to SFC staff about trauma – its symptoms and what has been described as the misguided medical and mental health practices of treating symptoms, rather than dealing with the causes of the symptoms: trauma. Too often, we ask ‘What’s wrong with you?’ instead of ‘What happened to you?’ It is in the second question that the key to healing lies.  The staff knew exactly what I was talking about.  They, as have most with whom I work, have the lived experience of the famous study by Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences,’ that includes among its findings, “…it is estimated that 92 – 97% of homeless women have histories of physical or sexual abuse.”

     I knew then that I wanted to be part of helping people who have been homeless transform their lives.

     “Everybody has trauma.” That’s one of the first things I say to trauma survivors as we begin our healing process, and trauma doesn’t come just being in combat or running into a burning building. Trauma occurs when an actual or perceived threat of danger or loss overwhelms a person’s usual coping ability. That’s it. There is no specific time for how long the traumatic experience must last for a traumatic memory to be recorded. The same incident may be experienced differently by different people.

     Physically, this causes a series of chemical reactions in the body that freezes the incomplete memory and understanding of the incident. One chemical, oxytocin, floods the brain and suppresses pain and the ability for the memory to be complete.  Initially, individuals experience many symptoms like flashbacks, anger, and anxiety. In time, coping mechanisms to the ongoing or chronic symptoms manifest as depression, addictions and other self-destructive behaviors.

     When I ask “what happened to you?” we begin a process of taking traumatic incidents, one per session, and detoxifying them.  When the charge is released from each incident, there is a chain reaction that reduces the charge in other memories and lessens the ways the individuals are triggered.  This method is called Trauma Incident Reduction and the process of resolving or greatly reducing the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) takes an average of 25 hours.  (Learn more about TIR at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvX6Zh2WHFk&feature=email.)

     In short, TIR is a highly effective way to address multiple traumas as experienced by adults, urban at-risk youth, unaccompanied refugee minors and others, treating one incident per session to reduce PTSD symptoms. In a trauma informed care environment, rather than seeing self-destructive behaviors that include or lead to addictions as personal problems to be fixed, we can understand them as coping mechanisms, albeit unhealthy coping mechanisms. When we deal with causes, and not symptoms, healing is possible. We move from managing symptoms or stabilizing behaviors to healing.

     The SFC director completely understood and allowed me to begin working with Solutions for Change residents on a pilot basis, bringing a trauma specific treatment to promote healing.

     In this way I am currently extending my ministry for Healing and Healthy Environments with this non-profit organization, whose mission is to promote healing by ending family homelessness and promoting healthy environments in North San Diego County, one family and one community at a time.  It is clear that underlying the homelessness of most of the families is abuse (sexual, physical, and mental) or other trauma inflicted on the adults, and which they have often inflicted on others. I am excited and confident that this partnership to deal directly with this trauma and eliminate the source of problems that tend to return people time and time again to their homeless state will be transformative for individuals, the organization and community.

     Jesus accepted everyone and offered God’s extravagant love and acceptance to all, whatever their station in life. But Jesus did more than welcome others; Jesus healed those who suffered from physical, psychological, and spiritual illness. By bringing healing from trauma to those who are marginalized and least likely to receive treatment, Jesus’ transformative love is made incarnate.  In this way, we help make captives free and bring new life to the poor and least able to help themselves. As a result of this healing and support, the individuals who are freed from the effects of their trauma are more likely to be more compassionate and healthy for themselves and others, witnesses of God’s love and solidarity with others.

     Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.’

     While my work with once homeless parents has just begun, the self-reported results indicate that incidents that carried significant emotional charge before sessions now carry negligible charge. As a result, clients report fewer extreme reactions or triggers in their day to day lives, helping them to more effectively complete their programs and move forward in their plans without unconsciously sabotaging themselves. Reports from the The Short Depression-Happiness Scale (SDHS); PTSD Self-Assessment Scale; General Expectancy for Success Scale (GESS); Clinical Anxiety Scale (CAS) rapid assessment; and CES Depression Scale show: gains in Depression-Happiness Assessment; improvement in PTSD symptoms; and improvement in depression symptoms. However, my vision is to create the kind of centers in California featured in the video about the Trauma Resolution Center, not just to work with individuals, thereby helping to transform communities.

     In conclusion, we all have trauma: pastors, lay leaders, members young and old. This gives each of us as victims or helpers the capacity to heal and transform lives.  As the Gnostic Gospel suggests, we can find salvation through working directly with trauma. This requires all of us to understand and detoxify trauma beginning with ourselves, so we can be parts of healing communities for those who come to us wherever they are in life’s journey.

1. To contribute to Solutions for Change, call Tammy Megison, Vice-President and Co-Founder, Solutions for Change, (760) 941-6545 x304.
2. Dr. Romo may be contacted at

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