The NASW Code of Ethics prioritizes disadvantaged populations, yet the social work profession could do much more in response to homelessness. A major goal of the National Center is to prioritize homelessness in the social work profession, which is the primary aim of our National Homelessness Social Work Initiative. Thus, we were delighted that the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare has identified ending homelessness as one of its twelve Grand Challenges for Social Work and to see that the 2016 Society for Social Work Research Conference focus is, “Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future.”

The Grand Challenge of Ending Homelessness concept paper was written collaboratively by a number of homelessness experts, including several faculty from schools of social work affiliated with the National Center. Among other things, the paper articulates a powerful argument for why homelessness can be significantly reduced, if not eradicated, within the next decade. The authors urge the field to build on recent downward trends observed for chronic, veteran, and overall homelessness rates. While they note that the existence of effective and evidence-based strategies varies by type of homelessness in question, it is clear that we are no longer in a position of not knowing what to do about homelessness. Additionally, we are better able than ever before to support and track efforts and progress at the local, state, and federal levels.

The concept paper does not stop at simply suggesting that the field rely on existing strategies; it encourages efforts to strengthen and expand them. The authors note significant opportunities for interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration. For example, limited government budgets continue to require partnerships between public, private, non-profit, and faith-based sectors to support effective programs and services. There are also numerous opportunities for social work to collaborate with other disciplines, such as medicine, education, technical fields, and engineering. One such opportunity is for the profession to work with the health care system to leverage new resources available under Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act to support services, such as supportive housing efforts, which was the focus of a previous white paper and blog post by the National Center.

Lastly, there remain opportunities to fill knowledge gaps and to disseminate and translate research to practice. These tasks require significant innovation. In brief, the concept paper highlights a selection of areas in need of further attention: 1) counting and understanding the experience of homeless youth; 2) more rigorously testing housing interventions; 3) understanding connections between homelessness and other systems, such as foster care, incarceration, and health care; 4) identifying and disseminating evidence-based practices for ending homelessness; and 5) bringing to scale existing effective strategies.

The Grand Challenge of Ending Homelessness is an exciting addition to this important initiative, and the National Center is excited to see homelessness brought to the forefront in the profession.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead at the National Center

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