Specialists who aim to combat homelessness recognize that there are many reasons people end up without access to consistent shelter. These can include psychiatric and physical disabilities, job loss, domestic violence, chemical dependency, and economic crisis.  Social workers in the field aim to address these root causes, with the goal of not only finding homes for those who need them, but to prevent future occurrences of homelessness throughout the community.

Many experts choose to tackle these challenges at the policy level, ensuring that local and state governments, as well as community agencies, have the procedures and funding in place to provide for the needs of the homeless population. They may also seek grants and other opportunities that allow particular groups, such as veterans or families, to move into long-term housing.  On an individual basis, specialists may work with homeless men, women, and children to provide therapy, substance abuse treatment, and job search support.  In short, a social worker with an interest in ending homelessness has many opportunities, in a variety of venues, to strategically address the issue.

Typical Roles and Responsibilities of Social Workers in Homelessness

Those working with homeless populations may have many responsibilities, including:

  • Case management – working with individuals to
    • locate therapy and/or medical treatment
    • find short- and long-term housing
    • assist with job applications and interviewing
    • access specialized resources, such as veterans’ benefits or protective services for domestic violence victims
  • Therapy – licensed master’s-level social workers may have opportunities to provide group or individual therapy, especially when addressing substance abuse
  • Policy and funding advocacy – seeking government-level change to ensure access to necessary funds and fair treatment

Positions in the field may take many forms; social workers may be employed by private agencies, non-profit advocacy groups, or local / state governments.

Average Salary

Since positions and responsibilities vary, salary opportunities do as well. Case managers and social workers just entering the field may earn around $35,000 annually, while non-profit managers, shelter directors, and other leaders average between $55,000 and $60,000 each year.

Education & Experience Requirements

Case managers working with homeless individuals may enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree in a human-service related field. Those who wish to provide therapy or work in a management position often need a master’s degree in social work, as well as social work licensure, in addition to related experience.  MSW programs that are accredited by the CSWE will provide internship opportunities that build a foundation for social workers in the field; click here to learn more about accredited programs that are available in a convenient, fully online format.

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