Outreach is the dynamic process providing services to those who might otherwise be ignored or underserved. It involves locating and contacting Veterans who are experiencing homelessness in places where they are likely to be found and connecting them to services that can lead to their being housed.
The elements of outreach include:
The people you will meet during outreach are individuals whose background and life stories are as different and varied as any random cross-section of people you would encounter anywhere. However, it is helpful to be aware of some of the challenges and barriers that confront those who are experiencing homelessness.
Homeless shelters offer basic protection from the elements, a place to sleep and often serve meals. Many shelters offer access to caseworkers and additional services. Some are classified as “low barrier” which means that behavior is the sole determinant in gaining admission. Unfortunately, living in close quarters with other people, lack of privacy and theft of personal possessions and other stressors are common, even within the best-run shelters.
High or rising costs of housing within the community puts additional stress on families with low or marginal incomes. It is common to encounter clients who became homeless due to their inability to meet the costs of rising rents.
Households with low income are vulnerable to homelessness. A single medical crisis, car accident, incidence of domestic violence, job loss or other traumatic event can push a household over the precipice into homelessness.
Discrimination based on race, gender identity or criminal history can increase the difficulty of obtaining housing and employment as well as access to services.
These can include abroad array of challenges including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and substance abuse disorders. These issues can both contribute to homelessness as well as be aggravated by existing homelessness. An estimated 26% of homeless adults residing in shelters live with serious mental illness.
There are specific skills that will help outreach workers who work among the homeless population. These skills can increase your credibility, earn the trust of potential clients and enhance the effectiveness of your efforts. They include:
Showing respect is primarily a matter of observing basic social skills. Introducing yourself to the client, offering a firm handshake, maintaining eye contact, and listening carefully while using their name are all effective techniques.
As you move among potential clients you are highly visible. Assume that you are continually being observed and evaluated by potential clients. They will notice your demeanor and will decide whether you are trustworthy and helpful based on what they see and how you interact with other clients.
Seemingly small challenges may seem overwhelming or insurmountable to a client experiencing homelessness. As an outreach worker you will have opportunities to solve some of these issues for your clients. One example of this might be referring a client to an onsite Department of Health and Human Services counselor who can enroll them in a food stamps program.
There are many agencies that offer services to those experiencing homelessness in our community; often there is a degree of overlap among those services. Happily, there is a strong spirit of cooperation and collegiality among the various partner agencies in Colorado Springs.
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