Social Workers and Homelessness
Social work plays an integral role, in making lives of the homeless better. They are always a core player in integrating them to society, make them feel love, accommodated, and above all enjoy the humane environment which otherwise wouldn’t have been subjected to as a result of their situation; homelessness. Therefore, social work can be defined as a profession which promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being, in addition to utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, in aiding people interact with their environments (Rwomire, 2011). In light of the above, this paper will analyze how a social worker works with the homeless, what services are at their disposal and what they are doing to empower them to rebuild their lives and hopefully get off the streets or find permanent housing.
According to Levy, over the past 20years more efforts have been focused on significantly reducing or perhaps ending chronic homelessness, among unaccompanied adults (Levy 2013). It’s estimated that approximately 150,000-200,000 are chronically homeless with one fourth of the homeless being veterans (Rosenberg 2009). The above statistics points toward an initiative to solve the problem which is turning to a crisis and might be a disaster, if the number is uncontrolled especially with the problems they face. Manthorpe et al point out that there is increasing evidence that many homeless people have multiple and complex needs but are excluded from social work support (Manthorpe et al 2015). It is for this reason that social workers come into play. The findings reveal that social workers recognize and make efforts to minimize the risks of homelessness by seeking to enhance people’s ability to survive adverse circumstances (Manthorpe et. al. 2015). However, what is homelessness? According to Holland and Raleigh-Durham, homelessness is a condition of or social category of people who do not have regular housing or dwelling because they cannot afford, pay for, or maintain regular, safe and adequate housing (Holland and Raleigh-Durham 2010). On the other hand, Rosenberg says the social works are persons engaged in prevention and aftercare, and advocacy to pursue progressive housing policies (Rosenberg 2009).
Social workers and Homelessness
According to Australian association of social workers, the social work profession is committed to maximizing the wellbeing of individuals, families and the community in socially inclusive communities, which emphasize principles of social justice, respect for human dignity (AASW 2008). It is for this reason that social workers are regarded as an integral part of the society’s existence and thrive. Over time, the issue of homelessness has been one of the biggest problems around the world, with its elimination encountering obstacles. However, these professionals mandated with settling and ensuring the wellbeing of the homeless have to follow procedures and guidelines in their quest to make these individuals feel the human value in them. In carrying out their professional tasks and duties, social workers strive to act in ways that give equal priority to respect for human dignity and worth and the pursuit of social justice as demonstrated through service to humanity, integrity and competence, which characterize professional social work practice (AASW 2008).
In a bid to solve homelessness, a social worker has to understand what really causes homelessness, where and how these people rendered homeless live and survive during their daily endeavors to make ends meet. A UNESCO report on social work points out that War, poverty, unwanted pregnancy, and family break-up, are common causes of child abandonment with children as young as six or seven years old in many developing countries, roaming the streets, forming their own gangs, living on begging, stealing and scraping from rubbish dumps, because their families do not want them (UNESCO 2000). Consequently, in the urban centers of many developed countries, a similar phenomenon has appeared in recent years with homeless people being everywhere, young and old alike, they loiter in the streets, sleep on pavements, in train stations or in parks since they have no place to go, nobody to turn to, no job to do, and no money (UNESCO 2000). The report further notes that the main causes of homelessness are unemployment, alcoholism, mental problems, poverty, old age or illness and mostly leads to prostitution, early marriages, or loveless affairs in a homeless person’s bid to obtain love and affection as they have not only lost their homes but their families as well (UNESCO 2000).
Lindsey on the other hand opines that, Individual and social factors linked to family homelessness do not fully explain the rapid and significant increase in family homelessness, however, Many researchers have asserted that the phenomenon is primarily due to socioeconomic and structural factors such as the feminization of poverty, the increase in the percentage of families living in extreme poverty, a decline in the low-income housing stock at the same time urban populations increased, a decline in the federal commitment to public housing and housing subsidies, the failure of public assistance benefits to keep pace with inflation, and the shift of the U. S. economy from a manufacturing to a service economy, with the resultant reduction in wages for unskilled or semi-skilled labor (Lindsey 2000). Therefore, the brutal experience of war and the harsh reality of living as a refugee make these people desperately in need of social services hence the need for social workers to come into play (UNESCO 2000).
Roles of social workers
Being key stakeholders in solving social vices in the community and the society at large, social workers are pegged to certain roles in helping solve homelessness.
First and foremost, Social workers are directly involved with assisting individuals and families to locate and maintain secure and affordable housing but are experiencing increasing difficulties in achieving these outcomes (AASW 2008). Shelter being a basic need, it’s important that it’s given priority whenever the issue of solving homelessness comes into play. By helping these people access shelter, it will be a great step towards reducing the numbers on the streets and others deplorable dwellings occupied by homeless. Consequently, Housing stress directly affects the health, educational, employment, and emotional wellbeing of individuals and families while at the same time impacting upon both current and future wellbeing and life-chances therefore, Social workers have a commitment to working with individuals, groups and communities in the pursuit and achievement of equitable access to social, economic and political resources and this includes equitable access to the housing resources of the country (AASW 2008). Equally by promoting policies to reduce the housing rates from low income earners forms a way to address the issue of housing, for instance, AASW endorsed the recommendations of Homelessness Australia that sought to ensure significant investment in a range of accommodation and housing models that are safe and affordable which would ideally be accessible to people experiencing, and at risk of, homelessness (AASW 2008).
Secondly, Social workers are also involved in undertaking research, social policy development, administration, management, consultancy, education, training, supervision and evaluation within different levels of government and non-government services and it usually includes developing housing and homelessness policies impacting upon individuals and families experiencing difficulties accessing or maintaining their housing (AASW 2008). Ina bid to solve problems, availing information, statistics, formulations among others play a key role in solving them, as they are able to be planned for, establish the best way possible to solve the problem and what might be needed to solve the issue at hand. Therefore, social workers are mandated with this work is guided by AASW professional aims of raising awareness of structural inequities, promoting policies and practices that achieve a fair allocation of social resources and acting to bring about social change to reduce social barriers, inequality and injustice that directly or indirectly lead to homelessness (AASW 2008). Similarly, some social workers choose to venture into advocacy and policy making roles and therefore are charged with educating the public about poverty and homelessness and influencing legislators to pass legislation at local and national levels that would help individuals and families in need, and at the same time advocating for increased funding for the community program that serve those with low income or homeless (Ritter and Vakalahi 2015)
Consequently, Social workers seek to promote distributive justice and social fairness, acting to reduce barriers and expand choice and potential for all persons, with special regard for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable, oppressed, or have exceptional needs, a category that homelessness falls, and therefore the need to extend their services to this group of people (AASW 2008). As such, the social work profession understands social justice to encompass: the satisfaction of basic human needs; the equitable distribution of resources to meet these needs; Fair access to public services and benefits to achieve human potential (AASW 2008). The achievement of human potential is an outward meaning of availability of needs to all people including homelessness, hence putting a stop to this vice that seems so persistent.
In conclusion, homelessness is real and needs to be addressed to enhance development, social and economic justice. To solve this problem, proper structures should be put in place to enable stakeholders, and majorly social workers help in implementing the different issues facing the homeless. Consequently, it’s important to note that that by social workers implementing the issue of housing, providing key information on homelessness and carrying advocacy soon we will have a society free from hopelessness.
Rwomire, A. (2011). The role of social work in National Development. Social Work & Society, 9(1), 108-118
Levy, J. S. (2013). Pretreatment guide for homeless outreach & housing first: Helping couples, youth, and unaccompanied adults. MI : Loving Healing Press.
Rosenberg, J. (2009). Working in Social Work: The Real World Guide to Practice Settings. New York: Routledge.
AASW. (2008). Position statement: Homelessness.
Manthorpe, J., Cornes, M., O’Halloran, S., & Joly, L. (2015). Multiple exclusion homelessness: the preventive role of social work. British Journal of social work, 45(2), 587-599.
Holland, C., & Raleigh-Durham, N. C. (2010, November). Church social work for a homeless family: Eclectic perspectives. In NACSW Convention 2010, Raleigh-Durham, NC.
UNESCO (2000). Social Work: Module Three.
Lindsey, E. W. (2000). Social work with homeless mother: A strength-based solution-focused approach. Journal of Family Social Work, 4(1), 59-78.
Ritter, J. A., & Vakalahi, H. F. O. (2015). 101 careers in social work. New York: Springer Publishing Company.