Where do you find homeless people?
You learn to look.
I'd like to say that spotting homeless comes naturally, but then I couldn't spot a drug dealer with near the ease of some film people I've worked with.
How does a birder tell a finch from a thrasher? How does an addict pick a dealer out of the crowd? What is it about their skin, their teeth, the way they move, the way they make eye contact or don't?
How do you get used to the "mental health stuff"?
The vast majority of my clients with schizophrenia can hold normal conversations, but the handful who think they're Jesus the Christ brought down to a smelly loading dock to raise the dead? Patience, repetition, and cigarettes. You visit them over and over until they consent to see a psychiatrist, and then you get to have the really heart-breaking discussion (especially for homeless women who are already getting raped on a regular basis) of whether to take the high-performing anti-pychotic that makes you sane but drowsy, or the low-performing anti-psychotic that leaves you half-crazy but alert to rapists?
What's the worst case you've ever handled?
There's no one worst case. There's only a lot of shitty moments that you'll never un-see. A woman weeping because she refused to fuck her crack dealer and he kicked her out in the rain. Trying to get a rape victim to stop crying long enough to pee on a pregnancy test strip. Seeing the 4-month-old staples on a woman's feet because her doctors were too lazy to remove them after she lost all ten toes to gangrene.
Case worker or social worker?
Case worker. Social workers are licensed and get college degrees specific to their field, whereas case workers often come from a variety of backgrounds (missionaries, teachers, artists, etc) or are peer specialists (a nice euphamism for ex-cons and ex-drug dealers).
Do you enjoy the job or is it just a paycheck?
I love my job. No one in their right mind would do this for the money.
What do you enjoy about the job?
Lots of things. Connecting with strangers. Conflict resolution. Mapping the off-road geography of the city.
How do you get used to the misery of poverty?
Nah it's easy. It's easy for me because I only work with adults. If I worked with children I would be a fucking wreck by week one. I worked with one kid, ONE, years ago and I still feel responsible for him. Even though he's housed with his biological mom, with a nice stepdad and four sisters, enrolled in school, reading books, I'm still dropping off stuff at their house. Still squeezing him like a damn doll every time I see him, for fear that if I let go he'll end up small and illiterate in a darkened house somewhere.
Have you ever been in danger?
Probably. I'm pretty stupid about waltzing into bad situations, which means I'm relaxed enough that it's never once escalated. If you don't care, the dude watching you from the ice cream truck across the parking lot doesn't care either.
Does your job actually make a difference?
Yes. I've taken truly damaged people, schizophrenic crack whores who couldn't walk or be bothered to change their shit-filled pants, and gotten them into permanent supportive housing where they are clean, sober, and bored out of their skulls. On a larger scale, I'm also the one steering droves of homeless people into infectious disease clinics to get them treated for hep A, HIV, and the big bad tuburculosis so yay for public health?