The Doorway Project is an initiative co-led by the University of Washington and YouthCare to address youth and young adult homelessness in the University District (Seattle) through continuous community-engaged collaboration with U District service providers. They have developed the following trainings meant for people who volunteer, wish to volunteer, or wish to engage more thoughtfully with unhoused individuals. To learn more about the Doorway Project and what they do, visit 

This is intended as a resource, please keep in mind that this is not comprehensive training.

When building relationships, allow yourself to engage authentically and empathetically. When building caring relationships with folks experiencing homelessness, it is important to acknowledge both the daily trauma of homelessness and the history of trauma folks are likely to have experienced. This module will introduce you to a trauma-informed framework for engagement and provide strategies for building trust, maintaining boundaries, and building relationships. 




We recognize that most of our clients have internalized trauma from their lived experiences. Trauma impacts the way that people engage in the world, and thus must be part of how providers engage with clients. A trauma-informed framework emphasizes the physical, psychological, and emotional safety of clients and providers. It requires that we acknowledge trauma and its impact on behaviors in our clients, as trauma overwhelms one's ability to cope. It is “an organizational change process centered on principles intended to promote healing and reduce risk of re-traumatization for vulnerable individuals,” but it relies heavily on interpersonal interactions in acknowledging trauma and its impact on behavior (Bowen & Murshid, 2016).


Core Principles of Trauma-Informed Care:

  • Safety – ensuring physical and emotional safety is extremely important because trauma can overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope with even minor triggers, resulting in difficult behaviors
  • Trustworthiness – maintaining appropriate boundaries, making expectations clear, and following through on commitments
  • Choice – prioritizing client choice and autonomy, especially when coping
  • Collaboration – maximizing collaboration between clients and providers; “nothing about me without me”
  • Empowerment – prioritizing client empowerment and skill-building


Trauma & Homelessness: Trauma is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Approaching this trauma and its effects on clients may fall outside of your area of expertise, and we ask that you avoid attempting any treatment, but offering and connecting to resources may be something that is vital in your practice.



In many social services, connections with clients are of the utmost importance. These connections can help our clients develop positive relationships with people they can trust, can help them to connect to and build community, can provide an empathetic ear, and can help providers gauge behavior and assess when something might be wrong. In building relationships, it is important to be mindful of the professional nature of the provider-client relationship.


Building Trust:

Introduce yourself & learn names! Being addressed by your preferred name can bring a sense of familiarity even into unfamiliar spaces.

Keep it light! Attempt to get to know the person, their interests, their hobbies, their favorite joke, etc; but not the person’s traumas, when first meeting them. Do not ask questions that will not directly contribute to their care! Vulnerable conversations should be initiated by the client and should be responded to with the utmost respect.

Be honest & authentic! When someone is being inauthentic or dishonest with us, we can quickly sense it and immediately become distrustful. The same holds true for our clients. In many social services, our connections with clients are very important. Authenticity ensures successful, honest relationships.

Be humble! If you make a mistake, even a minor one, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and move on! No one knows everything but together we know a lot!

Be yourself! The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable you make other people feel! Don’t feel as though you need to change or adjust your personality to interact with clients--just be yourself!


Maintaining Boundaries:  

Maintaining consistent, clear, and equitable boundaries with clients is extremely important to building relationships and trust. Remember that there are inherent power dynamics in the relationship between a service provider and a client, that clients can sense when they are treated inequitably (as we all can perceive), and that honesty is essential in building trust. This honesty includes only making promises you can keep and being okay with saying you don’t know the answer. (When in doubt, err on the side of “I’m sorry, I’m not sure, let me see if I can find out for you”.)


Building Relationships: 

Building rapport with clients is not unlike building relationships in our personal lives. Regardless, we could all use some refreshers on how to be a human:

  • Listen to understand, not to respond.
  • Lean into Discomfort. Don’t overshare out of a desire to fill space or time. Be conscientious about the space you are taking in the conversation.
  • Reflective questioning & mirroring. Ask clarifying questions, repeat what you have understood from the conversation to ensure that you understand and to show that you are listening.
  • Notice & reflect body language. Most (nearly 90%) of communication is nonverbal, so be aware of body cues.
  • Remember Small Details.
  • Be Consistent & Stable.
  • Be Open (Within Reason).
  • Be Genuine & Honest.


Respecting Space & Genuine Engagement: 

As much as services might want you to intentionally foster community with their clients, it is also important to acknowledge and respect when someone wants space. If they want to genuinely engage with you, they will! If they don’t, do not take it personally. It is rarely, if ever, about you!






    As we build relationships with people, it is important to approach conversation, conflict, and trauma from a place of empathy. Empathy, as opposed to sympathy, drives connection. Empathy, at all of its levels, encourages us to attempt to cognitively understand how a person might feel, to emotionally connect to something within them, and to be driven to action on their behalf.

      • Justin Bariso divides empathy into three categories, each of which can be practiced in turn:
        • Cognitive Empathy: understanding how a person might feel and what they may be thinking while communicating.
        • Emotional Empathy: ability to share the pain of another person, reaching emotional connection
        • Compassionate Empathy: ability to take action on behalf of others… this means that you are driven to action.
      • Remind yourself:
        • You don’t have the whole picture. At any given time, a person is dealing with far more than you can be aware of...
        • The way you think and feel about situations is influenced by many different elements; so is theirs


    Empathy v Sympathy (Brene Brown)

    Moral Bucket List.

    Categories: Resources