Why Education & Outreach?
We work to include an education component in nearly all that we do, and we rely heavily on the community to help us serve people experiencing homelessness. These services and education opportunities create a foundation of relationships and a caring community to help with homelessness in our neighbors. Engaging the community and educating on our services creates an understanding that’s hard to develop without first-hand knowledge. We want to share our "why". The community begins to understand that being homeless is just a situation and our neighbors experiencing homelessness often lack the personal network of support or resources necessary to change their situation.
Beyond engaging with potential clients, homeless education to other community agencies and businesses is essential for building a referral network to complement the services available within our agency. Most homeless experts agree that education and collaboration with community agencies is an important part of our work. Agency partners can span many sectors, including faith-based organizations and churches, schools, hospitals, jails, mental health providers, free clinics, police and sheriff departments, local non-profits, libraries, and community/day centers.
Homeless outreach is an essential step towards meeting people experiencing long-term or multiple episode homelessness and developing the critical relationships necessary for supporting transition to affordable housing and/or needed treatment. A consistent discussion among outreach workers describes the reasons for providing outreach to people experiencing homelessness: “Waiting for people to come to you doesn't work...so what we’re doing is going to where people are comfortable, to where they are right now, because that’s probably most effective.” This description highlights three essential aspects of outreach. First, outreach and engagement means “going to where people are,” rather than waiting for them to seek services at a specific place. Second, traditional approaches to site-based social services may not be accessible for people who are marginalized, such as homeless individuals and families. Finally, RCS provides outreach because it is “extremely effective.”
The varying roles of outreach include parts of many positions in our agency. Aside from the typical outreach positions, homeless outreach can also be done by community health workers, case managers, teachers, neighbors, hospital liaisons, and disability assistance staff. As frontline staff, we often serve as agency ambassadors in our communities, establishing first impressions of our agency to both prospective clients and community partners and stakeholders. Second, our staff serves as a bridge to agency services, establishing contact in the field and facilitating referrals. Third, once we engage clients, we can serve as navigators, helping clients overcome system complexities and access appropriate services in the community. Finally, our staff can provide support to other teams, namely clinical and behavioral health staff, often through multidisciplinary outreach teams and or efforts.