In program evaluations and job shadowing as of late, I have seen many very busy frontline workers. In almost all instances they are very well intentioned, dedicated, compassionate people who are trying to make a difference. They are also, in many instances, overwhelmed by the demands of their caseload and the litany of intrusions on their time. No doubt they are busy. But are they effective? How busy a person is should not be confused as a metric of effectiveness.
At the core, what is occurring is the provision of a general service, not a service intervention. More than semantics, the two constructs are quite different.
In a service intervention, three conditions need to be met:
1. There is deliberate action. One might say this is very targeted. The staff are intentionally engaging a smaller group of people with purpose and predetermined objectives rather than waiting for people to come to them or being taken off-track by intrusions or crises of other.
2. There is interference. This sounds negative, so let me explain because it is actually a positive. The worker is intentionally trying to interfere with the homelessness of the client. They are trying to disrupt it. They want it to change. This interference is strength-based and person-centered, but is not person-directed. In other words, there is intention behind the engagement to help move the person forward. It is not coercive nor does it have a hidden agenda. But the worker commits to challenging the status quo. Put another way, the worker is not trying to manage a person's homelessness, they are trying to end it.
3. There is persuasion. This is the only tool the worker should employ to help the client consider and act upon an alternate reality to their homelessness. One would expect to see strong motivational interviewing practices and occasionally some assertive engagement. One would expect to see persistence, patience and creativity in the worker rather than expressions of absolutes. The interactions would be devoid of opinions and advice.
It is easy to get distracted by the "busyness" of the work rather than focusing on the effectiveness of the work. It is a deliberate choice to be intervention driven. It can mean saying no to a number of other distractions. A focus on interventions in service is a commitment to work with a smaller group of people intentionally rather than a larger group of people peripherally. Especially in a shelter or outreach environment that can be a difficult decision to practice in that way because demands seem to outpace supply of personnel. But if you have a large volume of contacts but are ending homelessness for very few of them, is that really the best use of time?