We began this chapter on Social Work by discussing the challenging nature of the work. Even after reading that, you made it this far! We appreciate you continuing through, even with that warning, because although frontline support work is difficult, it is also a tremendously important role in the homelessness sector.

At the start of the chapter, we introduced you to the composite character Liam, who had many complex issues but was having difficulty connecting with services. The scenario was presented as an entry point into thinking about the complexity of frontline support work with people experiencing homelessness. We returned to Liam’s story again at the end to demonstrate how it can help us understand the foundational concepts of being trauma-informed, person-centred, socially inclusive, and situated within the social determinants of health as critical for understanding homelessness in Canada.

We then asked you to consider three questions along the way, with the guidance of leading homelessness researchers.

First we asked, ‚ÄúWhat is the role of case management in Social Work?‚ÄĚ Here we learned about the roots and definition, and importantly that it is not enough to talk about the role of case management ‚Äď we need to talk about good case management. Good case managers walk alongside their clients, advocate for them, and help them identify and connect to services they need within the community. As a critical part of the team, peer support workers offer an important, yet under-recognized, set of skills that can help people navigate programs for harm reduction, sex trade work, and mental health. Support workers do not need to be Hercules or Superman, but they do need to work with others to offer their clients the best care possible.


Next we asked, ‚ÄúWhat special populations are at high risk of homelessness?‚ÄĚ We noted at the beginning of this section that they were special because of the unique needs and experiences that differentiated them from single adult cisgender men, for whom many programs are designed. In this section, we considered families, refugees and racialized new Canadians, adults over 50, persons with disabilities, and Veterans. Each of these populations is at higher risk of homelessness and benefit from support interventions that are tailored to them, rather than designed to be ‚Äúone size fits all.‚ÄĚ


Finally, we asked, ‚ÄúHow can support workers prevent becoming burned out?‚ÄĚ In this final section, we looked at the mental health challenges of burnout, traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue that can arise from repeated losses and stress related to frontline support work. While we noted that this question could have been situated in many different chapters, we felt it was important to recognize the impact these issues have on those within the Social Work profession. We learned that these issues result from institutional practices and that individuals and managers can undertake many different approaches to reduce the impacts. Finding the right strategy and recognizing small gains is key to long-term success in this field.


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Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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