Working with Homeless program a life-changing experience for one grad
By Danielle Fink
Having real experience in a difficult situation is often the most effective way to relate to those in need. For Joe Skinner, a former student of the Faculty of Social Work’s Working with Homeless Populations certificate program (WHP), his real experience had him up against some of the most challenging hardships — Skinner was homeless for seven years.
Unfortunate times found Skinner battling with addiction and living on the streets of Calgary. “People aren’t sympathetic when you’re on the street. You will hardly ever hear an ‘I’m sorry’,” says Skinner.
However, compassion found Skinner when it seemed that there may be none left for him. Individuals at Calgary Urban Projects Society (CUPS) and the Opioid Dependency Program (ODP) took Skinner under their wings, providing him with the tools and support he needed to get healthy mentally and physically.
“I found out that I had liver disease and had contracted hepatitis C,” says Skinner. “The doctor took two-and-a-half hours going over my assessment. That kind of thing had never before been offered to me. Then, when my body got healthy, my mind got healthy.”
Through CUPS, Skinner was accepted into a hepatitis C treatment program, beginning his road to recovery. He was also eventually given the opportunity to be a part of the WHP program.
The WHP certificate program was developed seven years ago and is currently under the direction of Dorothy Badry, associate professor of social work. It is designed for individuals working in the homeless-serving sector.
“Our students come from a very diverse background. People come to this program with anything from a GED to a PhD, and everywhere in between. Some even have lived experience with these issues,” says Badry.
Skinner described his experience in the WHP program as being unlike any other he has experienced. “It was like I wasn’t homeless. No one knew my history, nor did they care about my history. I felt like a million bucks,” expresses Skinner.
Since completing the certificate, Skinner has been working with individuals experiencing homelessness. He finds he can relate to them on a very personal level, a connection he himself did not have before CUPS came along. “I could never find anyone to relate to me as a homeless individual,” recalls Skinner.
Many doors have been opened for him with his newly acquired certificate status. He is now on the WHP advisory committee, is case-managing two individuals, and presented on behalf of CUPS, the Calgary Homeless Foundation and the WHP at the 13th Alberta Harm Reduction Conference in Edmonton in June. Skinner also hopes to continue his education and earn a social work degree.
Skinner says he owes all of his positive life change to human compassion.
“It is profound to see the effects of caring. I have been caring all my life. It just got crusted over by the world. Change isn’t about becoming someone else, it’s about remembering who you were before the hardship.”