Meet me in the Neighborhood: Social Work CHIP students support homeless Detroiters

CHIP students and mentors
From left: SSW CHIP Liason Shantalea Johns and the 2019 SSW student volunteers and mentors

Social workers are vital front line workers of the interprofessional healthcare ecosystem of Detroit, partnering with allied health professionals to address the social determinants of health and improve patient outcomes in our urban community. Since 2014, the Wayne State University (WSU) School of Social Work (SSW) has partnered with pharmacy, medicine and physical therapy to provide a valuable urban interprofessional training experience as a participant in the Community Homeless Interprofessional Program (CHIP) clinic.

With nearly 11,000 homeless individuals in Detroit, the need for healthcare screenings, services and community resources is great. Led by the WSU Interprofessional student org, CHIP faculty, staff and student volunteers connected with Detroit’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul to fill this gap on weekends when healthcare options are limited.

CHIP provides a unique training opportunity for social work students committed to empowering social change in our urban community. According to WSU Faculty Advisor of Interprofessional Education and Associate Professor (Clinical) of Pharmacy Science, Justine Gortney, "Student social workers are vital to the success of the CHIP as they bring a unique skill set of empowering our patients by coaching them towards organizations that can improve their housing situations, linking them to community resources, and improving their quality of life." 

As the SSW CHIP liaison since 2015, Academic Advisor Shantalea Johns has witnessed the impact CHIP can have on preparing social work students to work in interprofessional teams upon graduation. 

My experience at CHIP has been enriching both academically and personally. CHIP has provided me the opportunity to work directly with students of various disciplines with real clients to gain real life experience in serving the homeless community. - BSW student Paul Chase

The interprofessional environment of CHIP provides an opportunity for students from multiple professional backgrounds meet, interact, learn and practice with the client at the center of care. As a part of the CHIP experience, student volunteers participate in monthly trainings on topics from each profession area represented and host an annual interdisciplinary panel.  

CHIP students and alums
CHIP students and alums

According to a recent evaluation by CHIP social work students Emily Bremer, June Bedo, Katherine Braun and Paul Chase, 84 percent of CHIP clients received health and social assessments, referrals to community resources, and information and psychoeducation from a social work student or preceptor. For BSW student Katherine Braun, hands-on learning has been the key to helping her transition her skills from the classroom to the community. “Volunteering at the CHIP clinic has provided me with valuable experience and a safe place to practice social work skills,” stated Braun. “Through my time volunteering, I also gained additional skills outside of the classroom which has given me the confidence to step into field practice with a small amount of experience. I highly recommend volunteering at the CHIP clinic for any student within the School of Social Work.”

In recent years CHIP has been recognized for its innovative and impactful community outreach, including an honorable mention in the 2019 Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration National Award competition presented by the United States Public Health Service and the Interprofessional Education Collaborative. In 2016 CHIP received The Dr. Arthur L. Johnson Community Leadership Award from WSU’s Office of Government and Community Affairs.

In an effort to continue to meet the changing needs of Detroiters, CHIP has expanded to include CHIP Vision, which offers free vision care, mental health resources and legal advice on the second Sunday of each month at St. Paul’s. This collaboration brings together WSU students from social work, medicine and law and continues the mission of CHIP as a holistic and client-centered clinic.

With the current COVID-19 crisis taking hold in Michigan, the need for services and support to Detroiters is greater than ever. In preparation for the return of the in-person CHIP clinic, students are participating in virtual trainings and looking forward to continuing their work as Social Work Warriors in Action.

Learn more about CHIP.

Back to listing