Have you ever had conversations with people who can’t seem to get past their beliefs about a situation? You hear things like, “we can’t do that” “they won’t let you” “They can’t afford it” I have to wonder if we believe things simply because they are the things we have always been told, when was the last time you challenge a long standing “truth”? How did it turn out?
Structural social work practice focuses on the structural or systemic cause of a person’s problems rather that on the person or their environment. In a course I took it was suggested that a structural focus was difficult in a generalist social worker’s daily practice. Do we focus on our client and what they can do now to improve the quality of their lives or do we focus on change the systems that is causing all of the grief. Although the goal of social work is to address both, there are only so many hours in the day and crisis crayons in the box.
We don’t recognize how much power we have to affect change. Or a better way to put it is we have a lot of power to prevent change. Every time we accept that something can’t be done or choose to not ask because we already know the answer we don’t take an opportunity to change things.
Example? Okay how bout this one. Housing. You’re a social worker on an inpatient unit in a hospital. You are doing discharge planning and this client will need a place to live. Let’s make it easy, they were living on their own before being admitted and the functional assessment has them reasonable independent. However they are on a fixed income of about 1188$ per month. (This is the amount paid to people on AISH in Alberta.) You know there is a 3000 person wait list for your city’s social housing program, the mental health housing program won’t take your client because they have used drugs or alcohol in the last 5 years and you know renting market value is too expensive.
Three myths. One, social housing wait list, yep, it’s pretty long. Have you done and application anyway? Did you call, is there any other programs run through them like rent supplements, or rapid exit that requires the application? The mental health housing, are you sure they won’t accept your client? Did you call and try to get an intake meeting?
Admittedly, these myths exist because they have been reinforced so many times. Maybe you won’t have a lot of luck but at least you can make a call, find out how it really is and maybe start building the relationships that can lead to change.
But that’s more like the structural social work but you really do need to focus on your client right now, discharge is approaching fast.
This leaves market value housing, this myth we can challenge maybe even bust. Yes, market value is expensive and your client is very low income, but so is anyone in Alberta working for minimum wage. Look at the options, a one bedroom apartment around 900$, a basement suite around 600$, a sketch below code basement “suite” around 600 to 700$ or shared accomidations for 400$ to 500$. Expensive but do able.
You might need to get out of your and your client’s way. Maybe they need some support in learning how to rent a place, Maybe the need a list of places to start or help getting a damage deposit. Either way they are getting discharged and what you offer them will decide whether or not they are housed or homeless.