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Crisis communication: a role for the built environment too?

I’m just back from the Florida Institute on Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida this week. It’s a unique opportunity to gain insights from speakers with knowledge that contributes to how we can help persons experiencing homelessness, and a notable workshop I attended was called Crisis Communication by Edward Rafailovitc and Scott Russell of the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The point was made that people in crisis are often afflicted with mental conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, or PTSD, which are related to brain chemistry imbalances in substances like epinephrin, seratonin, cortisol and melatonin. This, in turn, sometimes stimulates coping mechanisms like substance abuse and isolation. Rafailovitc made the point that we need to give these persons a reason to rejoin society– and a potential way to do so is to 1) listen; and 2) acknowledge they are in pain. Doing even just these two simple things can boost endorphin release and place people in an position to increase their use of logic in their thinking and ultimately take action to turn their lives around.

This got me thinking about how the built environment we offer to these persons  can also, in its way, show people they are being listened to (through sensitive design that meets them where they are) and acknowledged (for example, by giving them an environment where they can calmly collect themselves to take next steps). It’s pretty self-evident that places can cause us to act in various ways- think of the library where we automatically lower our voices, for example. We are only starting to look at tactics we can use to design environments that complement case managers’ efforts to move persons in crisis toward rational thinking, reduced isolation and calm reasoning— and ultimately out of homelessness.

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