Trauma is the biggest obstacle for Housing First whānau accessing the health care they need, according to Dr Richard Davies from the Calder Centre.

The Calder Centre brings primary healthcare services to the most marginalised Aucklanders and will enrol rough sleepers based anywhere in the city.

The healthcare needs of rough sleepers are critical. The average age of death of an Auckland rough sleeper is 55 more than 20 years younger than the average New Zealander. They are likely to suffer from three serious health conditions and are at least a thousand times more likely to have Hepatitis C.

“Most chronic rough sleepers have suffered abuse and trauma in childhood. This has profound effects on the adult survivor, who may come across as anti-social, aggressive, or withdrawn and as a result may well have had poor experiences of trying to get health care in the past. They may feel judged because of addiction issues, chaotic lifestyles, or previous encounters with the justice system,” Dr Davies said.

Childhood trauma may manifest in anxiety and anger management difficulties.

“Traumatised people are likely to be on permanent high alert for signs of danger from other people and over-react. They may suffer from claustrophobia and find it hard to wait in a waiting room,” he said.

“The ‘bad’ behavior of our street whānau can hide their humanity from other people. Health centre staff may come across as judgmental or uncompromising. The connection between trauma and current health and behaviour issues is not always well understood by healthcare workers.”

While medical professionals are often busy, short of time and under stress, Dr Davies believes Housing First staff have a role in advocating for whanau.

“Bearing in mind what our people have suffered, we should treat them with empathy, understanding and compassion and we should expect all health professionals to do the same, however busy they are,” he said.

“We do not need to seek disclosure of trauma or to talk about the past. We should assume bad things have happened and treat people with respect and kindness.”

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