Being a U.S. social worker in a time like this

If I think about it living and working as a social worker at this time feels quite surreal, in that there’s almost this sense that I shouldn’t be able to.

When I look at my Facebook or Twitter feed, the news is usually about a bill or political effort that will defund and otherwise disrupt the work that I and my social worker colleagues are doing. There’s a larger political war being waged in the background and for a long time now I feel like my side has been losing.

But nonetheless my work carries on. I’m still doing the same thing I’ve been doing over two years ago since I graduated. Tenants in a supportive housing program share me their traumas, their pains, and their challenges, and I try my best to lend them my ears, my heart, and what little insight I have.

Sometimes they mention about the larger socio-politico-economic realities being determined behind the scenes such as when Congress tried to repeal Affordable Care Act because it’ll matter to them on a personal level. One tenant was frightened about losing their MediCare coverage, and that would be a damning thing because the tenant lives with a disability.  HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) cutting funding could mean these tenants might not be able to afford to pay their rent in the future in which case they would become homeless again.

These are trying times to be a social worker, even though most of the time, none of us really seem to think or talk about that. My coworkers and I  don’t really ever talk about this kind of stuff at work. We’re too busy social-working, and our clients are too busy surviving.

It’s trying also I think because social work is so focused on striving for goals and making progress. In many social work settings, when we document things, we call them “progress notes.” That our nation is regressing instead of progressing is a difficult reality to accept.

I think about these things a lot outside of work, but I have to admit all of that still feels abstract to me. Because most of the day, what I see in front of me are tenants who come to my office who struggle to pay their rent, who want to cope with their intense depression and PTSD symptoms, who want to not relapse to cocaine abuse… The tasks asked of me are also focused on uplifting things, like warmly greeting and serving salad at my agency’s Thanksgiving celebration event for the tenants.

For some reason, I feel like all this could come crashing down soon. But no matter; we carry on as we always have done. We social workers are quite damn resilient if you ask me.

It’s not going to get any easier in 2018. I’m pretty sure about that. A lot of times – and my supervisor would say even just once for me is one too many times – I wonder about if I’m actually making a positive difference.

Though, I suppose that even if all I’m doing is to help maintain the status quo, and to be able to afford my own rent and bills, there’s no time like now to continue being a social worker and trying my best.

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