Complex Trauma in the Inner City

Grief, loss, and trauma have a major impact on our life journeys. The effects of violence and  chronic poverty contribute to the complex traumas often experienced by the people who access our inner city community ministries, such as West Broadway, St. Matthew’s Maryland, and Agape Table.

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In these spaces, the common experience of having lived through complex trauma walks like a dark pall over the people, and at times, the community. Addictions that are often in response to trauma provide a deflection and a way of self-regulating that, while ultimately unhelpful, are understandable. This is the reality of living with complex trauma for many people. Complex trauma occurs when individuals have experienced developmental trauma from poverty, parental addictions, experience of violence, abuse, personal addictions, and systematic oppression.
Dr. Amy Bombay, who examines the concept of historical trauma at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Mental Health Research, has defined the impact of indian residential schools (IRS) as epigenetic inheritance. Epigenetic inheritance is the genetic damage that results from complex trauma experienced by an individual. This genetic damage affects offspring for generations.
First identified as changes in the DNA of Holocaust victims and their offspring, science now accepts this cross-generational impact of trauma as a major challenge in working with individuals and communities of trauma survivors, including those who attended IRS. This, alongside a community and family system that has also experienced this type of trauma, makes the process of healing more challenging.
Those children who were taken into the schools often experienced broken attachment. Returning home, they did not develop appropriate parenting skills, and the cycle of family breakdown, developmental trauma, and major losses contributed to the ever-evolving cycle of multigenerational abuse and trauma. Developmental trauma and attachment issues impact future relationships and families.
The work of Gabor Mate ( proposes that the root of addiction, often experienced by those with complex trauma, is found in the early childhood environment and relationships.
Specialized training is required to work with those who have been traumatized, and wait lists are long. What can be done? How do we help with healing? Moving from charity to models of empowerment and walking with those who are on their healing journey calls for a shift in thinking. In the short term, we do need to ensure that people are fed and have housing. However, in order to address the long term impact of complex trauma, much more is needed.
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Addressing poverty in the long term means advocating for such things as guaranteed income, stable funding for treatment programs, increased mental health services, and safe, affordable housing. Learning more about the realities of complex trauma as experienced by many members of our communities is another important step, as no positive change can happen without insight and awareness. As followers of Jesus, we can then be equipped to participate in advocacy. A particular need for survivors of complex trauma in Rupert’s Land is a program that focuses on integrative and accessible addictions treatment. Long term counselling is also desperately needed.
There are many small ways that we can work together as a diocese to combat these challenges in our communities, particularly in collaboration with our inner city community ministries. For example, West Broadway offers both individual and group counselling for those who are ready for it, focusing on both immediate crisis resolution and long term capacity building for creating safe relationships.
Another way of giving voice to pain is through art. Several inner city ministries provide art programs, often selling cards made by members to help fund the program.
These ministries also assist in healing by specifically focusing on bringing people together to form and nurture relationships. This model is not unlike Jesus’ own healing ministry, which often created a place of belonging for those on the margins.
Supporting the diocese’s common mission and ministry fund enables the diocese to continue to engage and support such ministries. You can get involved with the ministries directly by offering your gifts and talents, making financial donations, or donating much-needed food and toiletry items.
Susan Titterington is the priest at St. Chad's, Winnipeg. She volunteers as a counsellor at an inner city ministry in Winnipeg.
Susan Titterington is the priest at St. Chad’s, Winnipeg. She volunteers as a counsellor at an inner city ministry in Winnipeg.

Recently, Bishop Donald, Lee Titterington, and I met with staff from the Aulneau Centre, who provide education and training for caregivers, as well as direct programming for those affected by complex trauma. We are looking at ways that we can share information and possibly work together in the Diocese. Check to learn more about Aulneau’s training and resources.


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