Texas Homeless Network

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The Crucial Role of Social Workers in Ending Homelessness

The Crucial Role of Social Workers in Ending Homelessness

By: Hope Rodgers

March is Social Work Month, a time to honor the dedication and resilience of social workers and the contributions collectively made by the profession. The National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) theme for Social Work Month 2024 is “Empowering Social Workers! Inspiring Action, Leading Change.” This month, we reflect on and celebrate the critical role social workers have played in working to end homelessness historically and today. 

The roots of modern social work date back to the late 1800s when pioneering social worker Jane Addams led settlement house movements, establishing safe havens for individuals and families experiencing the consequences of urbanization, immigration, and poverty. These early efforts to help address the effects of poverty through community organizing laid the groundwork for social workers and other helping professionals to continue advocating for and creating systems-level change. 

Often referred to as the founding mother of social casework, in 1989 Mary Ellen Richmond was the first to formalize the principles of direct social work practice. These principles were developed in response to Richmond’s findings from her volunteer work as a caseworker, at the time referred to as a “friendly visiting,” where she worked with individuals and families experiencing poverty. Through this work, Richmond founded the theory of Social Diagnosis, or the belief that the type of care a person receives depends on a person’s situation. Further, her research identified “six sources of power available to clients and their social workers,” which later contributed to the development of Systems Theory in the 1970s, a guiding social work theory widely used today in the delivery of homelessness interventions and services that seeks to understand a person’s situation within their environment, and how factors such as relationships, environment, and economic status form a system that influences a person’s behavior. 

The work of Addams, Richmond, and other social work pioneers created a path for today’s social workers and other helping professionals to continue working to end homelessness and overcome systemic inequities. Through direct-service roles such as street outreach workers, case managers, and housing navigators, social workers within the homeless response system equip individuals with the tools and resources needed to rebuild their lives. Further, through systems-level or macro work, social workers confront policies that exacerbate homelessness, analyze and address system improvement, and lead initiatives and programs that create equitable housing and homelessness interventions. Social workers, like many helping professionals, are often drawn to the profession because of their lived experience overcoming adversity. As a result, many social workers are uniquely positioned to advocate for a lasting change that integrates their own voice alongside the experiences of their clients, communities, or systems served. At all levels of practice, social workers elevate the voices and experiences of our unhoused neighbors and other marginalized and oppressed populations to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society.

This Social Work Month, we celebrate Texas Homeless Network staff who are social workers, hold a degree in social work, or are working towards a degree in social work:

        • Kraig Blaize-Fiero, CoC Programs Coordinator
        • Sam, LMSW, Director of Development & Communications
        • Katie Good, Coordinated Entry Lead
        • Kyra Henderson, Director of Systems Change
        • Jordan Hulin, Systems Change Coordinator
        • Hope Rodgers, LMSW, CoC Performance Manager
        • Billy Streu, LMSW, CFSW, Planning & Engagement Coordinator
        • Mary Rychlik Stahlke, LMSW, Director of Engagement
        • Jim Ward, Director of Planning

As we work with communities throughout Texas to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring, we recognize and praise the invaluable contributions of social workers and aspiring social workers in the field. Empowered by the early efforts of activists that led to today’s social work profession, we celebrate those currently working to end homelessness who are inspiring action and leading change.

 

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The Crucial Role of Social Workers in Ending Homelessness
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