More often than not, when people think of a Social Worker, their first thought is of a person from child welfare services or child protective services who snatches children from their homes in the middle of the night. More recently, people think of Therapists or Clinicians. I am neither of these things. You see, my Master of Social Work degree is in Management and Community Organization with a specialization in Social Action and Community Development. I have taken clinical courses and done therapeutic work.
I have great clinical instincts, if I do say so myself, but I pride myself on being a fantastic Case Manager and Program Director. My greatest strengths lie in organization and planning, resources development, and community engagement. I am a problem-solver with years of experience navigating social services and community organizations. Despite all my knowledge, experience, training, and skills, I have been unable to help a good friend of mine find stable, affordable housing for herself and her daughter. She has been homeless for 2 years.
On yesterday, I informed my facebook friends of an upcoming news segment about homeless teens in the Washington metropolitan area. In one county in northern Virginia, there is an estimated 2,000 homeless teens. The county has formed a task force to scout the streets looking for teens without a place to call home. I commented on facebook that we as a nation need to be proactive and not reactive.
Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than intervention. When I posed the question “would you know where to refer a homeless teen in your community”, I only received two responses from people “working in the field”. I remember thinking that this is a problem we can’t ignore. That is the way I feel about my friend. This family cannot be ignored and neglected any longer.
I have supported this resilient woman as a friend and as a professional. She is a fantastic Mother. She is an amazing business owner and writer who tonight sent me a blog post that made me a bit uncomfortable. I had to ask myself if I had become “comfortable” with her struggle and this “in your face” reminder woke me from that state. Had I become one of those people who was able to turn a blind eye? The answer is no, but as I began to process the seriousness of the situation and my gut reaction to it, I realized that I responded as a protector. Although I have always supported her writing, I wasn’t sure if she was revealing too much this time. I began to think of all the ways that people who read the blog could use her words as a means to “blame” her for her homeless status. I talked to her about my anxiety and in the midst of our conversation I realized that I also needed to share her story to show America the new face of homelessness. Prior to reading her latest blog, I felt that I was all out of suggestions. This blog jogged something in me. We concluded that she needed to continue to think outside the box for solutions in order to maintain her sanity and sense of hope.
My hope is that those who read my blog will take a closer look at the people in their communities and search for ways to serve. The new face of homelessness in America isn’t the alcoholic man sleeping in an alley. There are two-parent families, single mothers, and teenagers without a safe and stable place to call home. The new face of homelessness consists of people with skills, education, and experience who need a hand up and not a hand out. I hope you take the time to read my friend’s blog posts for yourself to find out why she isn’t able to stay with family or why she isn’t staying in a shelter or why she doesn’t just get a job. I will leave you with this thought, a person cannot thrive when they lack basic human needs and they are simply trying to survive day by day. Thank you for reading and thank you in advance for getting involved in your community.
Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer of The Teen Toolbox is a mother, youth advocate, and life skills strategist that has been employed in the human services field for over a decade. The Teen Toolbox promotes youth portfolio development, civic engagement, and academic enrichment to help youth set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals.
Nicki Sander, MSW
Original Post Date: Jan/Feb 2011
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