Clinical Social Work with Homeless People
Establishing Therapeutic Relationships in a Variety of Non-Traditional Setting
Julie Lorenzo, LCSW, Senior Associate Director for Programs and Adina Barbosa, LCSW, Associate Director for Programs, Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS)
Homelessness means not having permanent housing. Frequently, however, this condition is combined with a mix of psychiatric and interrelated problems, particularly among people who have been chronically homeless for years on end.
Returning to housing and assuming the associated responsibilities usually require clinical interventions to guide an adaptive change process that leads to long-term recovery and success.
Homeless people typically do not seek treatment and clinical support. They pursue survival.
The day-to-day work with homeless people takes place at non-traditional settings: shelters, emergency rooms, soup kitchens, the street, parks and transit terminals.
Social workers use clinical skills to establish a therapeutic relationship, creating opportunities in public settings to interview and evaluate underlying interests and problems.
Experience and current practice literature indicate that making a genuine offer to locate suitable, permanent housing early in the relationship is a preferred intervention. From the clinician’s perspective,
“suitable” means it is combined with adequate clinical and case management supports to address the individual’s or family’s level of need. From the client’s perspective, it is housing s/he wants, which requires an assessment of the client’s interests, expectations and goals.
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