Trauma-informed approaches to community building

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Trauma-informed approaches to community building use a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder, and multilevel approach to support and strengthen traumatized and distressed residents and communities and address the effects of unresolved community trauma such as historical community disinvestment, poverty, inadequate and insufficient housing, violence, social isolation, and structural racism. Trauma-informed community building includes a comprehensive set of individual-, interpersonal-, community-, and system-level efforts; for example, community building activities (e.g., gardening, group exercises, and community art projects), housing development, leadership training, supports for low income and public housing residents, and mixed-income culture building opportunities1, 2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Improved health outcomes

  • Increased social connectedness

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved mental health

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved neighborhood safety

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Trauma-informed approaches to community building are a suggested strategy to improve health outcomes and social connections in low income communities2, 3. Available evidence from early implementation of the Trauma Informed Community Building model in Potrero Hill, San Francisco suggests these initiatives may improve mental health and increase physical activity, increase connections among individuals from different cultures and generations, and increase feelings of safety among participants3. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects as this approach is implemented and studied more widely.

Community-based participatory research, community leadership and peer role modeling, support networks to cope with recurring trauma, and creative outlets to express residents’ collective trauma (e.g., community-engaged art) are recommended strategies for effective trauma-informed community building and resident engagement2. Public housing and community spaces can also be designed with an awareness of residents’ trauma and purposefully provide physical environments to support positive interpersonal relationships4.

Experts suggest community development initiatives that include components of trauma-informed community building, capacity building, empowerment, and network development may increase community resilience in response to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and adverse community environments5, 6.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers guidance on principles and different approaches in building resilient and trauma-informed communities based on community initiative examples in Philadelphia, PA; Kansas City, KS and MO; San Francisco, CA; Walla Walla, WA; Worcester, MA; and Tarpon Spring, FL7.

The Trauma Informed Community Building (TICB) model, developed by BRIDGE Housing Corporation and Health Equity Institute, incorporates housing development and community activities1, 8. Peace4Tarpon, a trauma-informed community initiative in Tarpon Spring, Florida, supports low income school children and offers community events in partnership with other community-based organizations9. Peace4Gainesville in Gainesville, FL, which is modeled after Peace4Tarpon10, and the Neighborhood Resilience Project’s trauma-informed community development in Pittsburgh, PA11 are also examples of local efforts.

Implementation Resources

US HUD-Community Building 2014 - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD). Community building in choice neighborhoods: Webinar on September 3, 2014.

Urban-Falkenburger 2018 - Falkenburger E, Arena O, Wolin J. Trauma-informed community building and engagement. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2018.

PI-Community trauma 2016 - Prevention Institute (PI). Adverse community experiences and resilience: A framework for addressing and preventing community trauma. Oakland CA: Prevention Institute; 2016.


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1 BRIDGE-TICB 2018 - BRIDGE Housing Corporation. Trauma informed community building: The evolution of a community engagement model in a trauma impacted neighborhood. San Francisco; 2018.

2 Urban-Falkenburger 2018 - Falkenburger E, Arena O, Wolin J. Trauma-informed community building and engagement. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2018.

3 AECF-TICB 2015 - Hope SF Learning Center. Trauma informed community building evaluation: A formative evaluation of the TICB model and its implementation in Potrero Hill. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF); 2015.

4 Huffman 2018 - Huffman T. Built community: Architecture, community, and participation in a permanent supportive housing project. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless. 2018;27(1):44-52.

5 Cavaye 2018 - Cavaye J, Ross H. Community resilience and community development: What mutual opportunities arise from interactions between the two concepts? Community Development. 2019;50(2):181-200.

6 GWSPH 2018 - George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (GWSPH). Building community resilience: Coalition building and communications guide. February 2018.

7 SAMHSA-TIC 2017 - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Spotlight: Building Resilient and Trauma-Informed Communities – Introduction. HHS Publication No. SMA17-5014. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2017.

8 BRIDGE 2014 - Weinstein E, Wolin J, Rose S. Trauma informed community building: A model for strengthening community in trauma affected neighborhoods. San Francisco: BRIDGE Housing Corporation (BRIDGE), Health Equity Institute; 2014.

9 Peace4Tarpon - Peace4Tarpon. Trauma informed community initiative.

10 Peace4Gainesville - Peace4Gainesville. A trauma responsive community initiative.

11 NRP-TICD - Neighborhood Resilience Project (NRP). Trauma-informed community development (TICD).