This symposium highlights multifaceted needs and vulnerabilities of diverse groups experiencing or at risk for homelessness. The array of issues ranging from childhood adversity, trauma, mental health, transition from supportive housing, disabilities, food insecurity, disaster vulnerability, substance abuse and aging points to the need for comprehensive response. Service implications translate into policy, program, and practice applications as well as next steps in research necessary to reduce homelessness.
A homelessness research agenda is key to preparing homeless service leaders. Policies like the Affordable Care Act create opportunities to strengthen homelessness programs. Social workers are poised to serve as local design leaders in new community-based care systems that include medical and behavioral health, community health workers, family-centered teams, and creative use of peers. Social work researchers are uniquely positioned to develop knowledge for multifaceted policy, program, and practice solutions to ultimately end homelessness.
Responding to homelessness calls for integration of micro, macro, and policy perspectives while including and transcending existing research categories such as child welfare, mental health, disabilities, substance abuse, and aging. This leads to new conceptual frameworks that synthesize different types of data and facilitate research on holistic interventions addressing complex issues. A person-in-environment perspective prepares social work researchers to achieve this level of integration.
Building the homelessness knowledge base – from characteristics of the homeless population to policy and service translations – can advance life-changing outcomes for millions who lack supports. Quantitative and qualitative findings presented in this symposium are linked through discussion of client characteristics and implications for services responsive to diverse vulnerabilities. As a whole, the symposium facilitates attendees’ exchange of ideas toward ending homelessness. As National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services partners, presenters are carrying out a National Homelessness Social Work Initiative to strengthen curricular content, agency partnerships, and information sharing to develop and support homeless service leaders.
Paper 1 strengthens appreciation of trauma backgrounds of homeless youth, speaking to the importance of identifying trauma symptoms and implications for both treatment and prevention.
Paper 2 addresses services, resources, peer/family supports, and skills needed to move from supportive housing to independent living among people with psychiatric disabilities.
Paper 3 highlights food insecurity among marginally housed people, calling for policy action raising disability benefits as well as food preparation technologies and spaces in single room occupancy settings.
Paper 4 attends to vulnerabilities of homeless people during disasters and calls social workers to translate needs into disaster planning procedures.
Paper 5 explores substance abuse, childhood adversity, homelessness, and anxiety among older adults in public housing. Implications for service access and treatment are addressed.