The National Center is part way through Year 2 of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative (the Homelessness Initiative). We’ve had an exciting year so far that included adding new partner schools and launching a regional hub model. We are now a consortium of 19 partner schools of social work across the U.S. Six partners serve as Regional Hub Leaders to advance work in key geographic areas. In the NY/NJ region, collaboration is fostered among seven NY partners and nine liaison schools in NY and NJ. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) continues to be a key partner of the National Center, supporting activities and helping to develop partnerships with other organizations, including the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Supporting the Grand Challenge to End Homelessness
A key aspect of our work is supporting implementation of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge to End Homelessness (GCEH), an effort co-led by faculty from two of our partner schools – Deborah Padgett (NYU) and Ben Henwood (USC). The partnership between the National Center and the GCEH continues to evolve. In July, we formed a workgroup to develop a homelessness research agenda. Workgroup members include representatives from the National Center, the GCEH, and the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans.
Working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Our work with the VA has also continued to develop since we held initial meetings with them this past winter. We formed a workgroup to explore opportunities for infusing veteran homelessness content into social work education and expand field placements for students with dual interests in homelessness and veterans.
Working with the Council on Social Work Education
CSWE has been a key partner in our work since the initial launch of the Homelessness Initiative. This summer, we began working with CSWE’s Learning Academy to develop a learning series on homelessness to support faculty development and for use in course curriculum. The series, titled “Homelessness in Social Work Curriculum”, will be released this fall.
The learning series is one example of how the National Center and CSWE have joined forces to promote curriculum integration and faculty professional development. We also want to create opportunities for students to gain expertise in skills especially relevant for working with homeless and at-risk clients. We are particularly excited to announce developing efforts to support the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) program.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provide crucial income and insurance for those with health issues and other disabilities. However, applying for these benefits is a complicated process and access is often challenging for people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. In fact, the initial SSI/SSDI approval rate for people who are homeless is about 10-15% when the application is submitted without assistance.
SOAR was established to increase access to SSI/SSDI for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The SOAR Technical Assistance (TA) Center, established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, supports the implementation of state- and local-level SOAR initiatives. The TA Center provides case manager trainings on the SSI/SSDI application process and technical assistance to support states and communities as they develop and implement their SOAR Action Plan.
Developing SOAR Pilot Projects
Social workers can help ensure the success of SOAR, especially in communities with particularly high rates of homelessness. Training social work students to assist clients with the application process will benefit field placement agencies by increasing the number of staff capable of supporting this process.
In an effort to support the goals of SOAR, the National Center held multiple meetings with representatives from SAMHSA’s SOAR TA Center and the Council on Social Work Education. We formed a SOAR workgroup to bring together partner schools interested in developing pilot initiatives at their schools. Below are brief descriptions of activities emerging from this workgroup.
The University of Texas at Austin is testing a SOAR field placement project, an effort led by Cal Streeter (Professor of Social Work) and supported by partnerships with community-based agencies. SOAR has been identified by the local homeless service network as a priority issue. Four MSW students will complete the SOAR certification and be placed in one of two participating homeless service agencies where SOAR will be a focus of the internship. Students will receive ongoing guidance and supervision from the Austin/Travis County SOAR lead. A small stipend will be given to students for each semester in this role. If successful, BSW students will be added in the spring.
Catholic University of America (CUA)
Linda Plitt Donaldson, Associate Professor at the CUA National Catholic School of Social Service, has initiated discussions with the SOAR Coordinator in Washington, DC. In September, she will attend the area’s next SOAR Leadership meeting to brainstorm ways the school can support SOAR efforts, including and beyond creating SOAR field placements dedicated to preparing SOAR applications at various agencies.
California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and the University of Southern California (USC)
CSULB is developing an advanced practice elective in their MSW program covering best practices working with clients who are homeless or at-risk for becoming homeless. As part of this course, students will complete the SOAR training and gain experience using the tool. Additionally, the school is collaborating with USC to develop a plan to provide SOAR training to interns from both universities who are placed in agencies serving homeless populations.
As we head into another school year, we expect this momentum to continue. Keep up-to-date with our activities by following us on social media. Additionally, our blog features monthly spotlights on partner activities, including Regional Hub Leader progress.
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