Social workers help tackle homelessness

Apr 4, 2016

By Alison Laurio, News contributor

When Georgia Van Cooten walked into New York City’s Penn Station to participate in the homeless count this year, her thoughts went to two people.

A second-year master’s in social work student at Touro College in New York City, Van Cooten also had taken part in the 2015 count. Back then, she talked with a couple resting in a stairwell who had come to New York from Florida for a fresh start.

“They got engaged and had a friend here who was going to help with a place to stay and jobs,” Van Cooten said. “The plan fell through, and they were left at Penn Station.”

The two were offered a place to stay but declined, she said. Since they were not married, they could not stay together in a shelter, and they did not want to be split up.

“All they had was each other,” Van Cooten said. “I could see on their faces how hurt they were, see the frustration. I wish we could do more, but we had to walk away. It was difficult to just walk away. This year I looked for their faces. I didn’t see them, but they were on my mind this time around.”

Homelessness is one of the main challenges social workers are tackling by using programs and resources that address issues like addiction, substance abuse, mental illness or joblessness. Homelessness affects a wide range of people, including veterans, families, single adults or young couples, LGBT youth and teen runaways.

Every year since the federal homeless count began in 2008, volunteers like Van Cooten have hit the streets across the United States to help the government get a better picture of the nation’s homeless population.

Tracking the number of homeless people is the starting point in measuring gains, and progress in reducing those numbers is being made, according to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report made to Congress in November.

The report states that since 2010, homelessness decreased overall by 11 percent, and there was a 26 percent drop in the unsheltered homeless population. Veteran homelessness declined by 36 percent, family homelessness was down 19 percent and chronic homelessness dropped 22 percent.

From the April 2016 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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