Downtown Women’s Center: A Journey Towards a Trauma-Informed Community

This story was originally published through 100 Million Healthier Lives and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

What if... A core set of skills and behaviors could be developed so that a community could successfully address health, well-being, and equity. Utilizing the 100 Million Healthier Lives Community of Solutions Skills--Downtown Women's Center--and our partners set out to demonstrate that communities can improve health outcomes. Below, see how we contribute to community transformation utilizing the Community of Solutions' five principles: Leading from Within, Leading Together, Leading for Outcomes, Leading for Equity, and Leading for Sustainability. 

As a 100 Million Healthier Lives supported SCALE, Pace Setter Community Downtown Women's Center focused on ensuring that women experiencing homelessness had tailored and customized access to treatment for diabetes through the Women for Wellness Program and Diabetes Learning Collaborative. As we deepened our work to address race, racism, and equity, we committed ourselves to raising awareness about trauma: a life-threatening event, series of events, or circumstances that can result in long-term health concerns.

In SCALE 2.0, we transitioned from a disease treatment program to a root causes model. We became the Trauma-Informed Action Coalition--a group of women who have experienced homelessness and trauma and service providers in the Downtown Los Angeles homeless services community focused on ending homelessness. 

We aim to spread and scale the Trauma and Resiliency Informed Care practice to heal devastating health consequences rooted in traumatic experiences.  

Leading from Within

Leading from Within involves one's inner journey to show, including addressing implicit bias, leading with vulnerability, creating opportunities for people most impacted by inequities, and learning from mistakes. 

Trauma-Informed Action Coalition meetings start by utilizing techniques to help us explore how our worldview contributes to implicit biases and may hinder our ability to effectively work with others, especially people most impacted by inequities. 

Participants rotate, facilitating reflections, meditation, or grounding exercises. This gives us a few moments to strengthen our insights into our leadership. Only one meeting occurs with reviewing the Center for Courage and Renewal's Touchstones from the Heart as a list of agreements to strengthen our ability to stay open-minded and solutions focused. 

DWC Advocates Graduate from Policy and Social Change Training

The Trauma-Informed Action Coalition Leads with Partners!

  • Women with lived experience of homelessness
  • Ashram Los Angeles
  • Chrysalis
  • CSH Speak Up! 
  • Good Shepherd Center
  • LA Care
  • Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative
  • Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
  • Lumos Transforms
  • Midnight Mission
  • Skid Row Housing Trust
  • The People Concern
  • USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

"I see the need for the community to be seen and heard and drive the action. I will do my part to promote this in all I do." —Community Health Improvement Learning Academy Participant.

Leading Together

Addressing equity challenges requires taking time to build trust, relationships, and interconnectedness, especially with people most impacted by inequities. Leading Together involves creating brave space for collaboration and sharing power.

As a SCALE community, Downtown Women's Center joined 19 other communities at seven different Community Health Improvement Leadership Academies (CHILA) across the nation over three years to further our expertise in the Community of Solutions Skills and advance our race, racism and equity improvement journey. Downtown Women's Center shared what we learned at National CHILAs and trained 160 individuals impacted by inequities and social service providers working to end homelessness by hosting three local CHILAs in Los Angeles. 

Most importantly, advocates with lived experience of homelessness and trauma lead the way. We co-create solutions by deeply listening to their experiences. 

Advocates with lived experience lead the way to change!

Leading for Outcomes

Leading for Outcomes involves believing change is possible by defining a tangible, motivating vision with concrete aims. The vision is co-designed with individuals and groups most impacted by the equity challenge. Leading for Outcomes is about using data and stories to drive improvement and monitor impact. The concept of "fail forward", a focus on community strengths, and identifying bright spots helps us approach challenges as opportunities.

Training the Domestic Violence Homeless Services Coalition on Improvement Science

Experts come together to write the Trauma and Resiliency Informed Toolkit

We published the first Domestic Violence Homeless Services Coalition’s Focus Group Report—a Los Angeles Countywide report on the needs of women living at the intersection of homelessness and domestic violence.

We introduced and trained 800 individuals and organizations in the practice of Trauma Informed Care.

Downtown Women's Center (DWC) was invited to co-chair a First 5 and United Way of Greater Los Angeles supported Trauma and Resiliency Informed Task Force.

Not one program or service is added without the explicitly expressed needs of women using the services. Through their participation in SCALE and other improvement science techniques, all services, classes, and offerings at DWC are customized to their uniquely expressed needs.

Building Trauma and Resiliency Informed Communities is not a destination, but a journey. It does not lend itself to easy check-boxes and charts, but our Trauma Informed Action Coalition has many outcomes to share!

We used the Community of Solutions model and created a coalition structure that can be used for any equity challenge. Using the same framework, in 1 0 we developed health programming for chronic disease management and in 2.0 we pivoted to systems change work utilizing the same foundation of skills. This model can work as a base for your communities equity challenge, just as it did for the 19 SCALE communities across the nation.

We changed organizational policy. We added “equity” and “sustainability” to Downtown Women’s Centers' organizational values. We co-created a Shared Leadership Policy and Values Operations Guide to help our staff demonstrate these values.

We started the Downtown Women’s Center’s Advocates Program.

We wrote the first of its kind, Trauma and Resiliency Informed Care Toolkit to help the homeless services sector understand how to implement the practice.

We are scaling our Women’s Needs Assessment to cover all of Los Angeles City to help directly inform what women experiencing homelessness need for their situation to improve.

Click here for the story of our community's transformation journey through SCALE, including big shift, major activities and milestones, achievements and lessons learned.

Leading for Equity

To lead for equity, individuals and partners take steps to dismantle the traumatic impacts of racism and other inequities. 

SCALE Coach, Shemekka Ebony, trains CHILA participants on meaningful engagement with community members

SCALE Coach, David Gibbs, facilitates CHILA panel on dismantling racism

In our 100 Million Healthier Lives journey, we realized early on that we could not improve health outcomes unless we created conversations and actions to address inequities rooted in racism and sexism. We explicitly focused on these inequities through our participation in systems change in Los Angeles. For example, we were on the first of its kind Committee to Address Women's Homelessness through the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and we were allies and supporters of the first Black People Experiencing Homelessness Report. Downtown Women's Center's advocates with lived experience of inequities use these reports as an advocacy platform for which to effect change. 

We proactively sought out national leaders in addressing Race, Racism, and Equity--Shemekka Ebony and David Gibbs--bringing them to Los Angeles to train participants of our Community Health Improvement Learning Academies. We also helped co-design a new tool--the Race, Racism, and Equity Assessment Tool--in partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives. 

While the work to dismantle systems of oppression is far from over, in our community, we started an important dialogue, rooted ourselves in common definitions, listened to real experiences of oppression, and got comfortable with naming racism. Our future is full of opportunities for anti-oppression work together.

Leading for Sustainability

Leading for Sustainability facilitates an ongoing process of transformation in a community (generative sustainability) as opposed to maintaining programs as they are. Four key elements of sustainability are: environment, resources, people, and change.

Downtown Women's Center is proud that the sustainability of this work we started is through true partnership. Evidenced by large numbers of individuals and organizations seeking our actionable community and training, we strive to share power with all stakeholders in this work. As we listened to the stories of women with lived experience, we realized the intersection of violence against women and housing instability. Using Community of Solution techniques, we launched the Domestic Violence Homeless Services Coalition. Supported through the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Blue Shield Foundation, and the Corporation for Supportive Housing, we now have a 450 individuals within 80 organizations strong coalition in Los Angeles closing the gaps in our services and increasing housing for survivors of gender-based violence.

Call to Action!

Envision a community that helps people quickly heal from trauma and join our Monthly Trauma Informed Action Coalition Meeting at the Downtown Women's Center

Become a Domestic Violence Homeless Services Coalition Member

Read the Trauma and Resiliency Informed Care Toolkit

Ensure that every health program or policy is designed with those most impacted by inequities in your community.

Trauma-Informed Care
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Brought to you by DWC

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