Trauma: Then & Now

We recently completed a five-year survey, including more than 1,000 homeless men we’ve served, that illuminates the link between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and homelessness in adulthood.

We’ve released the results of our survey in a report called Trauma: Then and Now. We conducted our survey from 2017 to 2022, which included responses from 1,002 homeless men. The survey found that on average, the men served by Hope Ministries experienced more than four traumatic events in their childhood. 

Examples of ACEs include domestic violence, substance abuse, separation, or home instability (parental separation, parent(s) removed from the home, incarceration). According to the CDC, the more ACEs a child experiences, the higher the likelihood they will face long-term impacts in the future. Those impacts can include chronic health problems, mental illness, financial struggles, and substance abuse into adolescence and adulthood.

And, as noted by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, there’s a high risk of those impacts also including/leading to homelessness.

“Our goal in completing this study was to quantify what our work serving people experiencing homelessness in Des Moines over the past 108 years has illustrated—that homelessness is complex and has many root causes, among them traumatic experiences during childhood,” says Hope Ministries President/CEO Leon Negen. “The more we understand what our guests have gone through in the past, the better we’re able to meet them where they’re at right now and help them heal and recover and, ultimately, rebuild their lives.”

Our report also looks at other long-term impacts of ACEs, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse and mental health. The full report is available here.

“Understanding the link between ACEs and homelessness allows Hope Ministries and other providers to hone our trauma-informed approach as we help men experiencing homelessness take their next steps in life,” says Negen.

Our comprehensive approach includes individualized case management, substance abuse counseling, access to mental health services and providers as well as trauma-informed therapists, work skills training and more.

“This study matters because people matter,” says Negen. “It illustrates the need for Hope Ministries and similar providers to offer not only practical solutions to a homeless individual’s current struggles—such as housing or free meals—but also compassionate understanding of the guest’s deep-seated hurts.”