May 30, 2012

Social Work and the Church -- By Jordan Treuter

After I observed the work of Terry and the ministry he leads, I asked if he wasn't a social worker in addition to a missionary. Terry replied, “I think social work and the church need to reconcile their differences and get married.”


“I can’t solve poverty. Jesus made it really clear; if I tried, I’d fail,” Terry says as he holdsa tattered blue bag filled with military and Doc Martin boots. They will be given out in ministry today.


It would be a tall task for Terry to solve poverty, let alone homelessness, even inAustin alone. The University of Texas School of Social Work estimates that Austinis home to at least 4,000 homeless, from a wide assortment of backgrounds involving varied disorders and ailments. 


Most of their problems stem from a lack of connectedness, according to Rebecca’s Community, an organization that raises awareness for the homeless, specifically in Australia, but with connections to the United States.


Without connectedness “specifically to family and friends”people lack theresources and community to provide support and assistance necessary to keep them off the streets. Combine this with eroding work opportunities and a decline in public assistance since 2000, according to National Coalition for the Homeless, and many people wind up living on the streets.


The Conference of Mayors recently released a report saying that in every state more than minimum wage was necessary to afford a one or two bedroom apartment that was decent, safe, sanitary and affixed with basic amenities. To afford adequate housing, people would need to make $9.50 per hour.


All this is occurring while the price of housing continues to increase.  Since 2000, the price of a one or two bedroom apartment has risen by 43 percent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. However,  minimum wage has only increased by 29 percent.


Additionally,  homeless youth have a difficult time finding a job. In 2007, a survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that only 13 percent of street youth had a job.


But the problems aren’t only housing and job related. Fifty percent of homelessness comes as the result of domestic violence and 63 percent of homeless women have experienced domestic violence during their adult lives. While sixteen percent of homeless people suffer from severe or persistent mental illness, according to the U.S.Conference of Mayors.


Homeless people also face the very real threat of starting or relapsing into alcohol and drug addiction.  Thirty-eight percent of homeless people reported alcohol dependency and 26 percent reported drug abuse, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.


But Terry’s ultimate goal isn’t to fix these problems. He does want to see the youth come off the street, but more importantly he wants to see them enter into a relationship with Jesus. He also recognizes that if he started to try to answer these needs,he would be placed in a difficult spot.


“Boundaries are important. If I just gave them what they wanted, they would chew me up and spit me out,” he says about the goods he hands out. "It's important to borrow and blend as many good social work practices as possible." SYM bases its work on sound and strong theories from social work that seem to work with our clients. We've studied and applied change theory and processes, strengths based brief therapy, harm reduction, narrative therapy, crisis intervention, formation of groups for therapy, detachment and support, drug counseling, mental health assessment, suicide assessment, trauma informed care, and more. It only makes sense. And we teach these concept to our interns to help prepare them to lead poverty-informed urban ministries in the future. We believe "this is where it's at!"


Do you have toughts on Social work and the Church?


"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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