More specific language could help social workers provide services to the homeless

Research conducted by Elizabeth Bowen hints that more specific naming conventions could help social workers and researchers alike provide aid to homeless individuals more accurately and efficiently.

With a wide diversity of individuals living in Single Residency Occupancies (SROs) across the United States, service providers often have trouble offering proper aid. But by using more specified language to differentiate between people in different living situations, research and social services could drastically improve, according to Brown, Assistant Professor at the University of Buffalo School of Social Work.

“One thing to be sensitive to is the question “do you consider yourself to be homeless?” Some people living in SROs responded ‘yes’ and others who felt they were more stably housed said ‘no.’ Specifically, more transient people or people who weren’t sure they could continue to afford their housing often did say they considered themselves homeless,” explained Bowen.

Similarly, she continued, “It is also useful to ask how long they’ve experienced homelessness. People who are experiencing homelessness for the first time have very different needs than those who have been in and out of homelessness for a long time.”

With 6 years of social work practice and extensive research into the intersection between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS epidemics, Bowen is well versed in both practical and theoretical conceptions of social work. She has used her experience in the field to promote the use of semantics to describe the differences between those who consider themselves stably housed in SROs and those who consider themselves homeless.

“Some people we spoke with were more transient,” explained Bowen. “Those people had the most risk behavior, multiple sexual partners and higher risk of addiction. On the other end of the spectrum, some people have lived in SROs for 20 years; it’s not ideal but it’s the only housing they could afford. These people seemed more stable.”

By developing a clear differentiation between transient individuals and those that are more stably housed, Bowen hopes that both researchers and social workers could more accurately work to assuage each group’s specific difficulties.

“It’s about not stereotyping the whole homeless population, about not thinking that they’re all the same,” said Bowen.

According to Bowen, the need for more specified vocabulary to differentiate between stably housed and transient individuals in social work and academia is particularly pressing as access to SROs decreases:

“SROs are not ideal housing but they are still housing. What you have now is a lot of these developments being bought out and turned into more expensive housing that the original tenants will not be able to afford,” she explains. “ If these buildings go away and people who were otherwise stably housed can’t afford the new expensive housing, they will be forced into more transient situation; they will have to live on the streets or in emergency shelters.”

Bowen hopes that by offering methods to differentiate between transient and stably housed individuals, the affects of this “housing crisis” could be more accurately studied and counteracted. Alongside this, better and more specialized social services could also be offered to those individuals who are more transient.