This was a class outline for MSW (Master of Social Work) students that ended up being scrapped, enjoy!
Social Workers: America’s State-Assigned Moms

Social workers do not have the psychic bandwidth for your bullshit. Most that you’ll encounter are mothers, which means they go from their low-pay job of fighting a slow death by paperwork to their no-pay job of helping with math homework and passing out Flintstone vitamins, often bringing foster or adopted children into their homes.

If you need a favor from them (and you always will), come prepared with TITS:
  • Treats: Individual wrapped chocolates to slide across a desk or just leave in their candy dish, cigarettes for the smokers.
  • Information: “Hey I know a rooming house with a unit open for veterans, want their number?”
  • Time-Savers: “I filled out these 16 forms ahead of time so you wouldn’t have to, just need your initials here.”
  • Shmoozing: “Girl your hair is AMAZEBALLS.”

Always say “thank you” and “I appreciate you getting back to me on this”. Return emails or voicemails in 24 hours, even if it’s just to say “got it thanks” or “Sorry I don’t have anything yet”, and end every message with the appropriate emoticon. Be nice in a world of assholes, because social workers are salaried and they can put you on hold until the heat death of the universe.

The Ten People You Meet Under the Interstate

Poverty is a trauma. With the exception of veterans and the learning disabled, it is entirely possible for a healthy adult to become any of the following on the streets:
  • Crack addict
  • Heroin addict
  • Alcoholic
  • HIV positive
  • Felon
  • Physically disabled
  • Mentally disabled
  • Rape/ Domestic Violence victim

Most homeless fall into multiple categories, but for now we will define the barriers and housing solutions of each one separately and later explore common combinations.

Crack Addict:

Cons: They behave erratically and supportive housing is often located deep in crack dealer territory.
Pros: n/a

Heroin Addict:

Cons: If they shoot up first thing in the morning they may not move or will fall asleep every five minutes, and Atlanta methadone clinics charge $4 a day.
Pros: Heroin addiction is easier to transition out of with a combination of therapy and prescription drugs


Cons: Client can be too drunk to function
Pros: Alcoholism is better understood by the medical community, garners more public sympathy than street drugs, plenty of AA chapters.

HIV positive:

Cons: Can be difficult to house if client is transgender or so immunocompromised that they require their own apartment. Federal funding vacillates with every administration.
Pros: Atlanta is Infectious Disease Doctor Heaven, so testing/treatment for HIV is fairly accessible.


Cons: Their probation officer may not allow them to live in certain areas; they may not pass a background check if they committed a violent crime, sex crimes, or theft.
Pros: Most felons are people who committed three misdemeanors, which means they looked in a mirror and said “shoplift a Twix” three times and became a felon. The public defender’s office may scrub these from a client’s record.

Physically disabled:

Cons: Housing must be ADA compliant, and allow for clients who can not use stairs, lower themselves into a bath, or climb into a top bunk.
Pros: The clients usually have (or are eligible for) Medicaid/Medicare plus Social Security benefits, plus related services such as transport to doctor appointments, cheap prescriptions, and nursing homes.

Mentally disabled:

Cons: Depressed or suicidal clients are often too sad to function, schizophrenics require a lot of structure
Pros: The clients usually have (or are eligible for) Medicaid/Medicare plus Social Security benefits, plus related services such as transport to doctor appointments, cheap prescriptions, and nursing homes. There’s also a lot of free counseling opportunities if the client wants treatment.

Rape/Domestic Violence victim:

Cons: DV shelters can be black holes separated from other outreach agencies, which makes it hard to stay connected to clients
Pros: Hugely sympathetic in the public eye

Learning disabled:

Cons: Clients may be illiterate or not emotionally mature enough to handle personal business
Pros: The clients usually have (or are eligible for) Medicaid/Medicare plus Social Security benefits, plus related services such as transport to doctor appointments, cheap prescriptions, and nursing homes.


Cons: Depending on their discharge status, they may not be eligible for VA benefits. VA bureaucracy can mean months of waiting for documents unless you pull strings. VA doctors are often overloaded and few clinics are equipped to treat common veteran diagnoses like PTSD or moral injury.
Pros: Honorable discharge opens a wide arena of benefits from housing to medical to a tidy monthly check if you were injured in combat.

The Horrors of Documentation:

Getting one homeless adult housed requires a Kafkaesque level of bureaucracy. Before they can be referred to housing, they need:
  • A birth certificate
  • A social security card
  • A state ID
  • A tuberculosis test result
  • Income verification
  • A signed HUD McKinney form

Because some of the documents are precursors to others, I’ve found that the best way of hunting them down are as follows:

The TB test: TB tests are required in jails, but the odds of you getting the social worker or chaplain to answer your calls and fax a test result are nil, so head straight for the Fulton County Public Health building at 10 Park Place, and on the 5th free floor is an infectious disease clinic that will test your clinic for TB/HIV/Syphilis for FREE if you produce a homeless verification letter.

There are three types of TB tests: skin-pop, blood draw, and X-ray. A nurse can do the first two, and 99% of the time you’ll only need the skin-pop test for determining TB. If the homeless client only needs a TB result and can reliably return to the clinic in 2 days for a follow-up to the skin-pop test, do that. If your client is more erratic and/or needs to be tested for HIV as well, do the blood-draw; the test results take a few more days, but they can come back for results at any point over the next year.

Once you have the TB card (yellow for negative, white for positive, at which point the county will offer the client TB treatment), it counts as a medical record and can be used to get a replacement social security card.

(Note: Don’t worry about catching TB from the homeless, it’s not nearly as infectious as, say, measles, and in all my time I’ve only meet three people who tested positive for TB: an ex-con, a young woman who lived with an ex-con uncle, and a Georgia Tech grad student who caught it in rural Georgia for reasons unknown.)

Social Security card: If your client can handle crowds and long waits, the big Social Security office downtown will do, but if they are incontinent, don’t trust metal detectors, or need to smoke every five minutes, take them to a smaller office on the edge of town. The Social Security office will ask for a medical record (you can use the TB card or see if the client has a medical record printout from a local hospital/clinic) and a homeless verification letter (also called Proof of Residence). Always go with your client for this part. Some Social Security reps don’t know about TB cards as a medical record, or perhaps the client has a red flag on their file (adopted name doesn’t match their ID name, fraud alert, etc), or a client can’t write well enough to fill in the mailing address (which in our case is a PO Box attached to the outreach organization).

Birth certificate: For the sake of ease, let’s assume the client was born in Georgia (some states are mind-numbingly difficult to get birth certificates, in which case your best bet is to call that one little old lady who runs the vital records office in the county your client was born in and beg like a little bitch). Georgia birth certificates can be ordered via VitalChek for about $35, just have the client with you to answer some personal details and security questions and it will ship in two weeks. If they don’t pass the security questions and ask for photo ID, take the client to the county voter registration office, get a voter ID card, and scan that in.

HUD McKinney: This is a one-page form that can only be filled by a medical practitioner or LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) stating that the client has a chronic health condition that prevents them from maintaining housing on their own. Finding a doctor or LCSW who both works with a lot of homeless AND is willing to fill these out in a timely manner is like tracking the last unicorn, so be super nice to them.

Income Verification: If the client has no income, they can get a free wage printout at the Department of Labor downtown, but if they draw a monthly check from Social Security you’ll need to drive them to a Social Security office in person and ask for a printout.

Georgia State ID: Easily the hardest document to obtain, it requires a birth certificate, social security, proof of residence (or homeless verification letter), and costs about $30. Fulton DDS is pretty good about getting people who don’t need driving tests in and out of the building in half an hour, but they are ESPECIALLY good about expediting clients who think they’re Jesus and start loudly excommunicating the security guard. Be extra nice to DDS employees.

Once you have all six documents, your client is Document Ready and can be referred to supportive housing. Depending on what’s available, you might have to wait several months for a housing unit to open up. Photocopy all the documents and upload them electronically in the event that your client gets robbed and loses all their ID.

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