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Homelessness

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The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, 2010, 3, 53-70

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Outreach and Engagement in Homeless Services: A Review of the Literature
Jeffrey Olivet*,1, Ellen Bassuk1,2,3, Emily Elstad1, Rachael Kenney1 and Lauren Jassil1
1 2 3

Centre for Social Innovation, 215 Spadina Avenue, Suite 120 Toronto, Ontario M5T 2C7, Canada The National Center on Family Homelessness, 181 Wells Avenue, Newton, MA 02459, USA Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, USA
Abstract: Outreach and engagement are regarded by many who work in homeless programs as essential services. Outreach on the streets and in shelters is often the first point of contact for people who are not served by traditional sitebased services and is often the first step in engaging homeless people in services. While outreach and engagement are critical components of the response to homelessness, consensus is lacking about the nature and effectiveness of these services. The purpose of this paper is to examine what is known about outreach and engagement for people experiencing homelessness. The authors review quantitative studies that examine outcomes and augment this understanding with information from qualitative studies and non-research literature. The latter provides information about the goals of outreach, assumptions and values, staffing issues, and consumer involvement. The paper concludes with implications for practice, policy, and research.

Keywords: Homeless/homelessness, outreach, engagement, review. INTRODUCTION At a recent discussion among outreach workers in Washington, DC, one participant described the reasons for providing outreach to people experiencing homelessness: “Waiting for people to come to us didn’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...

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