At the recent National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Oakland, CA I was pleased to provide a presentation on impactful outreach. You can download my presentation here. (Related to this, you can see the recent piece we put out on responding to unsheltered homelessness here, and you can read my thoughts on street outreach in The Book on Ending Homelessness by ordering it here.)
What is impactful outreach?
Impactful Outreach is a professional intervention that is structured, documented and strategic, to meet people where they are at - literally and circumstantially. Impactful Outreach is respectfully persistent in helping people achieve housing and exit homelessness through a process of assessing, understanding and addressing both immediate and housing needs.
The overarching objective of impactful outreach is to reduce and end unsheltered homelessness.
To achieve the overarching objective, impactful outreach shall:
- Be discerning regarding who they want to engage with and why, relative to the community’s priorities
- Know people by name
- Establish rapport
- Meet immediate needs without creating dependency and without enabling
- Focus on connecting people to housing through or outside of CES, and engaging in all processes associated with this (e.g., getting people paper ready)
- Develop strategies to effectively engage with people who do not wish to engage or struggle to engage
- Leverage strengths of various service providers beyond street outreach, within a systems context
- Drive decision-making through the use of data
The impact part is two-fold. For one, it impacts overall unsheltered homelessness by resulting in reductions in unsheltered homelessness in the community. For another, it impacts the lives of each person it touches by moving toward a solution to each person’s/family’s homelessness.
Impactful outreach, in some organizations and communities, disrupts the street outreach paradigm. The measure of effective outreach is not the number of contacts made or provision of goods. Rather, the measure of effective outreach is how many people have their homelessness ended as a result of the outreach intervention.
It must be noted that moving from contact-driven outreach to solution-driven outreach can be a tough sell for some existing outreach teams and for some communities as a whole. There isn’t a magical switch that gets flipped with existing street outreach workers to suddenly become solution-focused in their work. Quite often there is extensive training to be done, and processing of the new approach can require coaching. To be honest, not every outreach worker that currently does contact-driven outreach is able to make the switch to impactful outreach.
At the community level, the paradigm and practice shifts can come with pushback and hiccups along the way. No longer are street outreach workers pseudo-first responders or simply moving from location to location to encounter as many people experiencing homelessness as possible. Impactful outreach is a very targeted approach to street outreach that sees outreach workers engage with a smaller group of unsheltered persons intensely rather than a larger group of unsheltered persons peripherally. The outreach worker, in impactful outreach, is charged with the task of problem solving and getting all of the paperwork and/or documentation in order that will accelerate the unsheltered person in being able to access housing. While quite often housing access comes through Coordinated Entry in impactful outreach, there are some instances where the outreach worker can assist the unsheltered person/family access housing outside of Coordinated Entry-dedicated resources, especially when they have sufficient income.
As more and more communities see rises in unsheltered homelessness, they should examine their current street outreach services. If the way outreach is being delivered is not impactful, we miss the opportunity to impact unsheltered homelessness overall and the lives of many unsheltered persons/families that would benefit from an impactful approach to receiving services.