Personal Wins!

Led team of two design researchers

Adopted trauma-informed best practices into project methodology

Brought over thirty system actors together to brainstorm trauma-informed approaches

Developed tools that clarified and humanized a resident’s shelter experience for policymakers


Leonore Snoek, Mai Kabori


NYC Department of Homeless Services

How might we identify and mitigate homeless shelter practices that unintentionally create or reinforce trauma in families?


Service Design Studio worked with the Department of Homelessness Services to explore how applying a perspective rooted in Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) might influence shelter-related policies and practices. TIC helps both policy makers and front line staff operate with a greater understanding of and empathy for the ways trauma influences people’s lives.


This engagement elevated opportunities for better incorporating TIC into decision-making and operational practices related to the Families with Children Shelter.

Unpacked trauma-informed care: Our team conducted an extensive landscape review focused on codifying the various definitions of trauma and approaches to trauma-informed care which grounded our discovery phase in best practices and guiding principles. To complement our stakeholder research, we included best practice insights (see pink cards above) in a series of flash cards designed to keep our research accessible as we moved into generating ideas.

Surfaced systemic attitudes: We conducted process observations at the PATH Intake Center (pictured above), toured various non-profit run shelters and conducted one-on-one interviews with families, shelter staff, and City administors. Our goal: surface the existing policy, procedure, and staff attitudes that supported a trauma-informed approach and reveal the key tensions driving against it.

Strengths-first: We were able to speak to seven mothers as a part of this project. In our sessions, we ran warm-up activities and set ground rules together to help everyone feel comfortable and understand the boundaries of our project. We also designed research probes that asked participants to tell us about a challenge they were proud of overcoming, this focused our conversations on strengths and supports for success.

Applied knowledge: We brought stakeholders from across the shelter system, many of those that we interviewed, together for a half-day co-design workshop. In this workshop, we discussed trauma-informed care and shared research insights both which guided a rapid concept exploration.

Elevated high-impact solutions: We ranked ideas generated in our co-design session on a matrix to elevate trauma-informed solutions. From north to south, we ranked ideas with the most direct impact on a families experience higher than those that would result in more of an indirect impact. From east to west, categorized ideas by their ability to mitigate trauma. This axes borrowed four key principles for trauma-informed organizations that surfaced in our landscape scan (see best practice cards above).

Delivered empathy tools: Our research artifacts (Empathy Journey, above) focused on giving policymakers an emotional connection to resident’s as they moved through the shelter system.These were included in a policy recommendations report delivered to the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services.

Supported a ‘level up’ in trauma-informed care: We worked closely with DHS to bring together managers from the Street, Adult, Families with Children, and Safe Haven systems for a Trauma-Informed Retreat. The objectives of this retreat were three-fold: learn the basics of trauma-informed care, help all staff see the relevance of TIC to their role, and give space to agency teams to interact with and adapt our recommendations into departmental strategies.