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07 2011

Tips for outreach workers

Syndicated from: Editor's corner

As the first -- or only -- front-line professionals with whom homeless people may be in touch, outreach workers can make all the difference in whether people who are homeless find a place to call home and the supports needed to stay there. In 2008, outreach workers from around the United States gathered in Boston to discuss the skills needed for effective outreach. They came up with some tips for other outreach workers. Here they are -- some may be obvious; others are more subtle but just as important: 1. First and foremost be human. Be yourself. People know whether you are being authentic and genuine. 2. Be comfortable outside your comfort zone. 3. Don't tell people "I know what they are going through," "I understand," or "I've been there." Even if you have been homeless yourself, everyone's story is different. 4. Shine the flashlight in your face, not theirs -- little things make a big difference. 5. Wear layers. 6. Be responsive, not reactive. Don't get defensive. Often negative situations have nothing to do with you. Take a few seconds to think before you speak. Reactive is about you; responsive is about the other person. 7. If you find yourself going into an emotional or physical place that might trigger you, don't go there. 8. Know the limits of your own skills. 9. Remember that dehydration and sunburn are issues in the winter and in the summer. 10. Create survival packs to give out. Include ziplock baggies, gloves, hat socks, toiletries, non-perishables, condoms, seasonal items, flashlights that don't require batteries and fingernail clippers. 11. People often jump to conclusions and diagnoses too quickly. Don't assume that just because someone is homeless that you know what's going on with them. 12. Give without expecting anything in return.Beyond such simple considerations, training can go a long way in honing skills for working with this population. The Calgary Homeless Foundation, Alex Pathways to Housing and the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work have developed the Certificate in Working with Homeless Populations, perhaps the only program of its kind in North America. The program incorporates best practices in the field, including the housing first model. It prepares front-line practitioners to navigate the complex system of government, mental health, medical and social service agencies. The program examines mental health and substance use issues, and includes a diversity element, including a focus on Aboriginal communities and immigrants and refugees. This introductory certificate is the first in a series of three certificates, which are now being developed.

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