As a social worker managing a homeless shelter (HomeAgain’s Emergency Men’s Shelter), I balance protecting the resident’s rights; extending a harm reduction model; and practicing a trauma informed care model. This is all done while ensuring everyone’s safety and that all basic needs are met. No one day is the same in the shelter. I work to empower residents while maintaining existing community relationships with volunteers and supervising shelter staff. I even resolve issues between clients and print out resumes.
One of the biggest parts of my job are conducting intakes, which can be emotionally taxing on social workers and the incoming residents. The format is similar to visiting a doctor’s office for the first time; I’m asking some hard questions in an attempt to build rapport and better serve an underserved population, but those details aren’t always easy for clients to share.
I often discover that a new resident has experienced a series of bad events which lead them to our shelter. Due to a lack of resources for single men, I often use my social work background to take a clinical approach to empower our residents. We foster a nurturing, healing, and conflict free environment as I collaborate with community partners to help clients set interviews, get clothing, and receive help with mental health or substance abuse issues. Many times, clients come in with nothing. They may need underwear, socks, shower shoes, and other items that may of us take for granted. Unfortunately, these things are not donated nearly enough.
I recently noticed a rise in young clients and those who have recently been in the care of the Department of Justice. Those with criminal records face challenges with employment, housing, and adjusting to life outside of incarceration.
Our youngest clients also experience a different set of challenges considering that most service providers are attuned with the needs of adults over the age of 30 with a specific set of needs. For homeless youth, in addition to the needs detailed above, they also seek understanding and to develop healthy relationships. Luckily, unlike single adult men, there is a greater conversation about homeless youth and many resources are being pulled together to help homeless men ages 16 to 24.
In my experience working at HomeAgain, I’ve had the privilege of listening to the stories of men experiencing homelessness. A story that stuck with me involved an older African American male who suffered from co-occurring issues of substance abuse and mental health. Although he had been trying to piece his life back together since being discharged from the Army, he has struggling. After being assigned a case manager and getting help in our program, he found housing and is living successfully on his own… I was ecstatic to hear about his progress.
Working with the homeless provides insight to some unique challenges. I am always concerned about the lack of resources for single men. I find myself often times scrambling to pull together assistance for my guys, or to secure a rental unit they can afford.
Homelessness is a systematic issue. The reasons someone experiences a housing crisis can be lifelong struggles. The harsh reality is that anyone, at any time, can become homeless… I know that we could all be one bad decision or one lost job away. Through my work, I help others- but as they share their stories and change my life, they are helping me, too.