If you are at all familiar with this blog then you know that one of my favorite aspects of social work is the variety of people, places, and disciplines that you get to experience as a social worker. This month we’ll begin a discussion of the people in need of social workers. In the past, we’ve discussed career fields and academic disciplines, now we’ll begin a discussion about the unique people groups with which social workers have the privilege of serving.
Often, when people think of social work, they think of children. And while a large portion of a social worker’s clients will be children, social workers are actually trained to work with any vulnerable or marginalized population. These populations can include, but are not limited to, children, people who are limited or disabled, immigrants, migrants, adults who are unemployed, people who are medically fragile, and those without homes. This month we will focus not only on broad labels but the ways in which social workers work with people who live with those labels.
Let’s begin with one of the most vulnerable people groups, those living with homelessness. Those among us, without homes, are susceptible to a number of physical and emotional safety concerns. Social workers provide a number of services for people of all ages and abilities who are experiencing homelessness. The most obvious service is, of course, helping to provide emergency, temporary and eventually stable housing. Beyond housing, however, social workers are also charged with helping to uncover and, if possible, correct the issues that contribute to homelessness. These issues include mental illness, unemployment, or escape from abuse or neglect. As a social worker who works at a shelter you may only be concerned with providing emergency shelter. As a shelter case manager, however, you are responsible for providing resources and referrals to help combat the limitations of the people who are experiencing homelessness. Referrals could include psychiatric evaluations, education or job training, or victim’s counseling. Additionally, shelter case workers may also work with organizations that provide or make available basic needs such as clothing and food. Shelter case managers may also assist in providing direct services to residents by teaching them to properly budget their income.
Regardless of your role as social worker, rather you are a therapist, financial advisor, career readiness instructor or hospital case manager, you will likely work with people who are experiencing homelessness. The most important thing to remember when working with this population is that homelessness is not an isolated issue. There are many factors that contribute to homelessness and though one social worker cannot possibly address them all, it is important to become familiar with the people and resources in your community that can help to address these issues.
So, what issues do you think are important to address when working with people experiencing homelessness? Where do social workers fit into the equation?