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Social workers work with homeless shelters in a variety of ways, depending on the individual social worker’s focus. Social workers may work directly with homeless residents or shelter directors to institute policy changes in service of the shelter.
Social workers may serve the role of case managers in homeless shelters. In this role, the social worker can help residents get government benefits such as Social Security, disability, Medicaid and food stamps. The social worker can also help the resident find other needed services and assist in securing permanent housing.
Social workers can also work in homeless shelters as mental health and substance abuse counselors. In this role, the social worker provides therapeutic support and gives the resident the ability to talk out her problems and gain greater insight into them.
On a larger level of policy, social workers can make change by publicly supporting laws and policies that affect the quality of life for people living in shelters. For instance, according to Rich Lombino at Change.org, social workers in New York City have been working to influence policy that would restore federal housing aid priority to the homeless.