Appendix C – Library of Evidence-Based Programs, Promising Programs, and Best Practices
Outreach and Education
Overview: Outreach is a broad term to describe activities which increase the likelihood of the homeless engaging in services over time. Education, in this case, involves educating both homeless Veterans and the VA and non-VA providers who serve them about the services available to meet the needs of homeless and at-risk Veterans. With outreach, the outreach worker meets the homeless where they are, bringing services into their world rather than expecting the client to come to their agency. Quite aside from this practical element of outreach, there is a personal connection that develops over time, and results in a trusting relationship between worker and client. Over time, and based on this relationship, the client may choose to use the services available to move from homelessness into housing, recovery or employment. Skilled outreach teams in the Access to Community Care and Effective Services and Supports (ACCESS) program have proven effective in reducing involuntary commitment and increasing enrollment in services (Lam & Rosenheck, 1999). When outreach workers develop a genuine relationship with homeless individuals who abuse substances, close to half will engage in treatment services voluntarily (Fisk, Rakfeldt, & McCormack, 2006). Outreach has been especially successful in reaching those homeless individuals with mental health issues, who may be most in need of services, but unlikely to seek them out (Rowe et al. 2002). Homeless Veterans experience a high level of frustration and stress while accessing traditional health care delivery systems (Applewhite, 1997), and are more likely to access care through outreach services (O’Toole et al., 2003). The ultimate goal of outreach services for the homeless is to integrate individuals back into the community and create the highest level of functional independence possible for the individual.
Street outreach to homeless individuals is not without risk, and those considering implementing a program of outreach will need to develop a comprehensive training program for outreach workers (see Additional Resources below). New outreach workers are urged to seek experienced workers as guides as they begin street outreach. There may be community agencies that are doing outreach who can provide local guidance. It is especially important to carefully prepare treatment provider organizations to receive Veterans who are reached through outreach, so that the efforts of outreach workers are followed up by successful treatment or services.
Established VA Services and Programs:
Although Healthcare for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Programs initially served as a mechanism to contract with providers for community-based residential treatment for homeless Veterans, many HCHV programs now serve as the hub for a myriad of housing and other services which provide VA a way to outreach and assist homeless Veterans by offering them entry to VA care. Outreach is the core of the HCHV program. The central goal is to reduce homelessness among Veterans by conducting outreach to those who are the most vulnerable and are not currently receiving services and engaging them in treatment and rehabilitative programs.
Stand Downs are one part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide outreach to homeless Veterans. Stand Downs are typically one to three day events providing services to homeless Veterans such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment. Stand Downs are collaborative events, coordinated between local VAs, other government agencies, and community agencies who serve the homeless.
The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline (1-877-4AID or 877-424-3838) is another program that increases the accessibility of VA homeless services and provides information and assistance regarding these services to VA Medical Centers, federal, state and local partners, community agencies, service providers and others in the community. The hotline provides homeless Veterans or Veterans at-risk for homelessness with free, 24/7 access to trained counselors.
Best Practices: In 2007, the Homelessness Resource Center reviewed the evidence for outreach to determine what is known about the practice. What follows are the common themes that emerged:
Outreach is an interactive process between outreach workers and clients that involves repeated contact over a period of time, for as long as services are needed. Follow-up is essential to successful outreach and engagement. The process involves time and patience.
Outreach is many things: a location, a service, and a step along the way. Outreach can be understood as many different things. Essentially, it “seeks to establish a personal connection that provides the spark for the journey back to a vital and dignified life” (Bassuk, 1994, p. 103).
It is the job of the outreach workers to meet people where they are (literally, judgmentally, metaphorically). Outreach workers should try to see from the client’s point of view. Literally, they should meet people in their neighborhoods and bring services to them, rather than expect them to visit a service agency for help.
Outreach and engagement is designed to treat the whole person. Assessment and supports for medical and mental health issues are just as important as teaching life skills to emphasize that people can do better for themselves.
Respect for the client is critical. Outreach services should be person-centered and should help clients to feel encouraged and hopeful about their futures.
Relationship-building is of utmost importance. Relationships should be therapeutic. It is important to give it time and get to know people. Outreach allows the time to build trusting communication in order to create these relationships.
Meeting basic needs is an important component of outreach. Helping people to secure food, clothing, shelter and housing builds a strong foundation for the relationship.
Teams and networks are critical to successful outreach. Teams with knowledge of mental health and substance use are needed during days and evenings. These teams should be connected with other programs, and help to bridge the gaps between service systems.
Flexibility and creativity are essential for effective outreach. Clinicians that are members of outreach teams may use creative, non-traditional approaches to treatment. This might include getting to know clients’ daily activities and using this information to engage them in ongoing, meaningful ways.
Coordination of services is a key function of outreach. Outreach and engagement services should be connected to other community services. Linking clients to a network of services helps clients to develop a sense of personal control.
Community education is one responsibility of outreach workers. The efforts of outreach workers can only go so far if the community does not have adequate resources or attitudes to support clients. Outreach teams can help by providing consultation, education, training, and referrals.
It is important to involve consumers in outreach. Outreach programs are successful when they use consumers as outreach workers. They bring knowledge and lived experience that are extremely valuable to people who may be unsure about accepting treatment and building relationships with service agencies.
Safety, boundaries, and ethics are primary concerns for outreach teams. Workers must constantly be concerned with safety and judge each situation. It is important to maintain boundaries with clients – do not socialize outside or work hours, and do not give or accept gifts.
Outreach programs should be designed to serve people who have difficulty accessing services. People who are homeless and experiencing mental illness easily fall through the cracks because they may be harder to engage in services. The goal of outreach is to reach people who would otherwise not be reached.
The end goal is to integrate people into the community. Outreach can invite people into an empowering community. Many outreach efforts teach life skills, job training, and help those they serve learn to function independently.
(Homelessness Resource Center, 2007 as cited in Olivet, Bassuk, Elstad, Kenney, & Shapiro, 2009)
Involvement of Consumers: Outreach workers who have themselves been homeless and are in recovery may be especially effective at engaging those who are currently homeless (Fisk, Rowe, Brooks, & Gildersleeve, 2000). They bring knowledge and lived experience that are extremely valuable to people who may be unsure about accepting treatment and building relationships with service agencies (Olivet et al., 2009). The ACCESS project, a large research demonstration project across nine states, looked at the outcomes of hiring formerly homeless persons with mental and/substance abuse disorders for their outreach teams. These individuals served as regular members of clinical teams. Although researchers identified challenges with working with consumer providers in this program, they conclude that “collaboration between consumer and non consumer staff members holds exciting promise for comprehensive client care” (Fisk et al. 2000, p. 252).
Additional Resources:The National Council on Health Care for the Homeless has developed a curriculum for training outreach workers. The curriculum can be accessed online (http://www.nhchc.org/Curriculum/) and contains six training modules. The training uses the Relational Outreach and Engagement Model to train workers to listen to and be compassionate with homeless individuals. Each module has three or four activities, and there are videos and exercises included in the program. This is a study that could be facilitated by a mental health professional, and the curriculum provides tips for facilitating the process. The six modules of the curriculum are:
Introduction, including the history and philosophy of the homeless outreach
Preparation, including the values orientation of the program, issues of worker safety and worker self-care.
Approach, including ways to observe individuals who may be homeless, and introduction and listening skills
Companionship, including frameworks for engaging with the homeless
Partnership, including skills for referrals and community linking
Mutuality, including the meanings of home, and transition and closure skills
This curriculum includes many tips and suggestions for adapting it to the specific needs of your program.
Applewhite, S. L. (1997). Homeless veterans: Perspectives on social services use. Social Work. 42(1), 19-30.
Fisk, D., Rowe, M., Brooks, R., & Gildersleeve, D. (2000). Integrating consumer staff members into a homeless outreach project: Critical issues and strategies. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 23(3), 244-252.
Fisk, D., Rakfeldt, J., & McCormack, E. (2006). Assertive outreach: An effective strategy for engaging homeless persons with substance use disorders into treatment. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 32(3), 479-486.
Lam, J., & Rosenheck, R. (1999). Street outreach for homeless persons with serious mental illness: Is it effective?. Medical Care, 37(9), 894-907.
Olivet, J., Bassuk, E. L., Elstad, E., Kenney, R., & Shapiro, L. (2009). Assessing the Evidence: What We Know About Outreach and Engagement. Retrieved from http://homeless.samhsa.gov/Resource/View.aspx?id=37555.
O'Toole, T., Conde-Martel, A., Gibbon, J., Hanusa, B., & Fine, M. (2003). Health care of homeless veterans: Why are some individuals falling through the safety net?. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 18(11), 929-933.
Rowe, M., Fisk, D., Frey, J., & Davidson, L. (2002). Engaging persons with substance use disorders: Lessons from homeless outreach. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 29(3), 263-273.