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Tucson Opinion: How brain injury affects chronic homelessness — and how to help
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Tucson Opinion

Tucson Opinion: How brain injury affects chronic homelessness — and how to help

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs have expired, which will undoubtedly lead to an increase in homelessness.

This is particularly worrisome for individuals who have survived all types of brain injury or trauma and have become unemployed during the pandemic and are now facing the prospect of not having a roof over their heads. Survivors of COVID can also experiencing cognitive challenges, leaving them vulnerable as well.

Even before the pandemic hit, some survivors of brain injury facing homelessness had been waging uphill battles on various fronts due to challenges in their brains’ executive functions. Many brain health advocates believe extra consideration must be examined to ensure some of our must vulnerable community members can maintain their housing or have the same access to programs as everyone else. We believe the role of the invisible disability of brain injury must be accommodated for in programs designed to stabilize housing. This can be accomplished by addressing three areas:

Criteria for funding. Currently, there are precious few opportunities for supports, due to requirements that neglect the needs of those of brain injuries. For instance, people need to qualify for both DDD and ALTCS, which is almost impossible to secure with a brain injury.

Difficulty tracking down resources. Even when they do qualify, it is hard to locate agencies that distribute funding. When they are identified, procedures such as calling at certain times and being put on hold indefinitely are counterproductive. While frustrating for the general population, this can be overwhelming for people with cognitive impairment, who grow frustrated.

Awareness of their specials needs. In general, assistance programs are staffed with employees who are not trained to work with survivors of brain injury. This is becoming a growing problem as people with brain injury make up a large percentage of the burgeoning homeless population. Not understanding how they process information or need instructions in writing is a barrier to meaningful interaction.

These issues must be faced head-on — and immediately. Many programs that are well-intentioned and helpful for most, like Section 8 housing, are nonstarters for people with brain injury. Subsequently, they may be only able to afford a home that is not conducive to their recovery, like being too noisy or require walking up stairs.

To remedy these oversights, we recommend the adoption of the following:

Make available housing units specifically for those with brain injuries. This requires placing them in an environment that encourages safe practices surrounding cooking, using electrical equipment, and other activities that could qualify as physical risks. What’s more, neighborhoods should be safe and quiet, with minimal potential for triggers.

Provide greater financial assistance and awareness of legal groups for those individuals already in homes to prevent homelessness. Finding this type of help is often difficult even for people without brain injuries but is necessary. What’s more, studies show that when various programs to reduce homelessness are enacted, states and municipalities public end up saving money in the long run.

Ensure various staff members in assistance organizations be trained to interact and help those with brain injuries. This cannot be stressed enough: Survivors must be treated with dignity, respect and patience. Understanding their frustration at every turn is the first step to hearing their stories and help them on the road to recovery.

While these are long-term goals, they must be acknowledged and addressed today. When people experience a brain injury, they will often have a rapid decrease in income after an accident, or injury renders them unable to work as they begin a yearslong recovery process. Additionally, since brain injury suddenly disrupts their ability to work, even though on paper, they can look just great. This can lead to homelessness, without the ability to secure assistance.

The more we understand this cascading of events, the more we can help those in our community.

Will Grove is a housing and health care advocate for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.

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