Off the Streets: Homeless domestic violence vicitms receive treatment for traumatic brain injury

(October 2014) -- Meeting face-to-face with homeless people in downtown Phoenix was eye-opening for Ashley Bridwell, who discovered that many of those living on the streets were also living with traumatic brain injury incurred through domestic violence. This revelation prompted Bridwell to take action. Two years later, she co-directs a life-changing program that offers comprehensive care at Barrow Neurological Institute for homeless women and children with brain injuries.

Homeless domestic violence victims receive treatment for TBI at Barrow.

A call to action

Bridwell, a social worker for the Barrow Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury Center, provides specialized therapy for post-concussion patients on a daily basis. But it wasn’t until her husband, Brad, invited her to participate in Project H3: Home, Health and Hope in 2012 that she made a three-way link between homelessness, domestic violence and brain injury, pinpointing a need that had been long overlooked.

Spearheaded by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, Project H3 is an annual campaign that aims to find homes for the most chronically homeless, medically vulnerable individuals. Two years ago, Bridwell and fellow volunteers hit the streets of downtown Phoenix in the wee hours of the morning for three days straight, asking the homeless about their medical history.

Of the 300 face-to-face surveys conducted that year, one- quarter of the individuals also suffered from brain injury. “It shocked me because I never considered the relationship between traumatic brain injury, homelessness and domestic violence before,” says Bridwell.

Community of care

Bridwell returned to St. Joseph’s, haunted by stories she’d heard on the street and determined to make a difference.

“I researched peer review literature and talked with anyone who would listen,” she says. Fortunately, Javier Cárdenas, MD, neurologist at the Barrow Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury Center, heard the message loud and clear, and together they set out to work on a solution.

First, Cárdenas secured a $100,000 grant from the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation. Second, Bridwell and Cárdenas developed relationships with area homeless/domestic violence shelters and the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. Bridwell met with social workers and case managers, educating them on traumatic brain injury and working collaboratively to streamline a process for identifying potential patients. Last and most important of all, upon referral of the shelter, victims of domestic violence who had screened positive for brain injury were referred to Barrow for evaluation.

A brighter, safer future

Today, hundreds of homeless women from the Phoenix community have benefited from the domestic violence program at Barrow, where they receive diagnostics, surgery, physical therapy, neuropsychology, speech therapy and injury prevention education—all free of charge. Of equal importance, the program assists them in finding subsidized housing to keep them out of harm’s way in the future.

“We are serving a clearly veiled and hidden community in need,” says Cárdenas. “In this clinic, we are seeing multimillion-dollar professional athletes and domestic-violence brain injury patients within 30 minutes of each other, and they are all receiving the exact same level of care.”

Earlier this year, Bridwell and Cárdenas accepted a gift of $100,000 made on behalf of the Board of Visitors to continue funding the program. They are hopeful other dona tions will follow.

You can support this program by making a donation to Barrow today. 


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