Working With Homeless and Vulnerable People: Basic Skills and Practice, by Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff, Lyceum Books, Chicago, ISBN 978-1-935871-62-0, 2015, 412 pages, $69.95.
Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff writes that “home is a special place. It reaches inside us and awakens feelings of belonging, comfort, and shelter.” These feelings all create different meanings when home does not exist or is not stable. I have worked with the formerly homeless and other underhoused populations, and it takes special skills and perspectives to integrate needs from several different levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into professional practice with the client. The author does a wonderful job of developing an overview of the complex systems that intersect when we discuss clients who are homeless or have unstable housing.
Schiff begins by discussing homelessness as a policy issue and then describing the harsh realities of life on the street and its implications for direct clinical practice. The book contains twelve chapters, covering homelessness in the United States and Canada, outreach and ongoing engagement with homeless populations, and health issues with these populations. She not only explores case management issues, but has written an entire chapter on interprofessional practice—building relationships and strategic alignment with professionals within intersecting systems, such as the law and criminal justice systems, medicine, and case managers. This integrated framework is built with overall improvement of client experiences and outcomes in mind.
Primarily useful for students and those brand new to the field, the book presents us with a solid overview of mental health and diagnostic concerns, along with chapters addressing substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders/trauma-informed care. Additionally, the author has written a chapter on the often overlooked skillset around cultural competence, particularly through the lens of clinical work with vulnerable populations. The chapters that address ethical and legal considerations are two of the most important in the book, as they address areas that are often not addressed and help to think about direct practice with the underlying tenets of social justice and self-determination.
This book seems to be able to serve as both a textbook for students entering the field and an incredible resource for professionals new to working with homeless or other clinically complicated populations. The author is able to weave macro, mezzo, and micro social work practice with the very special needs of homeless populations.
Reviewed by Jason Nicholsen, LGSW, Behavioral Health Specialist at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, DC. Mr. Nicholsen can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.