The Making of a Social Worker | The son of a pastor, Josh Spring spent the first part of his life in the rural poverty of Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. When he was in fourth grade, his family moved to Louisville. There he saw the residual evidence of urban poverty. “I don’t think I knew the term ‘social work,’ but it was there that I decided I wanted to do something to combat poverty,” Spring says.
Country, City, Suburb | When he was in high school, Spring’s family moved to Cincinnati where he observed yet another part of society by attending a wealthy suburban school. “I was able to see the other side and realized that folks in the suburbs didn’t have any connection or knowledge of what was happening in the cities or the country. That’s when I was confronted by the attitudes that people who are poor brought it on themselves.”
Learning By Listening, Part 1 | After high school, Spring applied to Xavier’s social work program. Halfway through his degree, he got a second-shift weekend job working at the desk of a 16-bed transitional housing building run by Tender Mercies. Listening to the building’s residents was an invaluable learning experience. “It gave me the opportunity to hear the intimate stories of countless people experiencing homelessness. That’s when I started to learn what homelessness was. It wasn’t something people caused or something that was a result of bad decisions. It was systematic.”
The Science of the Matter | Around the same time, Spring wrote a research paper about a federal policy called the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. By the time he finished, it was 119 pages long. “I had the stories behind homelessness. Now I had the science behind it. Homelessness became my focus from that point on in school.”
Learning By Listening, Part 2 | When Spring graduated, he was working as a social worker for the tenants of low-income community housing projects in Over-the-Rhine. He listened to the stories of the tenants, and it became clear that these people had not brought poverty on themselves, as his suburban high school classmates had assumed.
Empowering Work | In 2009, the position of executive director opened at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Spring applied and got the job, in which he coordinates 50 organizations working with the homeless in Hamilton County. He enjoys the opportunity the job gives him to empower people who had previously been downtrodden and voiceless. The goal, he says, is to give people the resources to improve their own condition, and then step aside and let them do the work themselves.
The End | There’s plenty of work to do. “I am thankful that I’m young,” Spring says. “It allows me some energy and idealism to put into it. Our job is to end homelessness altogether. It is possible, and we know how to do it.”