In homelessness services, street outreach refers to work undertaken with people in the areas they are sleeping rough. This typically includes the streets, parks and other public spaces such as bus and train stations. Small teams or pairs of outreach workers go out, including late at night and in the early hours of the morning, to locate people who are rough sleeping. The role of outreach teams varies but usually outreach workers seek to engage with people and check their immediate health and wellbeing, collect basic information about their situation, facilitate access to emergency accommodation or other accommodation (such as hostels or Housing First), and inform them about day centres they can access for basic needs and advice. Outreach workers may arrange to meet people during the day time to undertake a more detailed assessment than is possible on the streets.
Outreach teams in the UK are often commissioned by local authorities. This means they are able to refer people into temporary accommodation, shelter, and hostel provision if they are eligible for these services. They also undertake reconnections work which seeks to identify an area that someone is more likely to be able to access services in and arrange for them to return/ go to that area (see Reconnections). In severe weather, many street outreach teams in England and Scotland are responsible for taking additional work to ensure all those rough sleeping have shelter that night, even if they are unable to access accommodation in the area at other times (for example because they do not have recourse to public funds). There are other street outreach teams who are not commissioned by local authorities for example religious organisations.
Some outreach practice seeks to avoid interventions that make life on the streets more tolerable – for example, provision of sleeping bags, tents or food. Other approaches regard the provision of food and equipment as a positive way to improve a person’s immediate situation and promote trust, despite not being a desirable final outcome of outreach practice.
The goal of street outreach is to identify people who are rough sleeping and help them off the streets. Usually the goal for is to move people off the streets as quickly as possible to reduce the negative impact of rough sleeping on individuals and the community.
There are no studies measuring the effectiveness of street outreach.
There are currently no relevant studies.
No evidence is available on which groups this intervention affects.
No evidence is available on which outcomes this intervention affects
If you are implementing street outreach, be aware that service users can sometimes be wary of strangers and official services. To build trust in your outreach service:
Staff should then focus on helping the service user to access a flexible range of support services tailored to their needs.
Identify the other services operating in the area and try to improve local collaboration. Encourage coordination between multi-disciplinary teams through:
Be clear about who the service user is and how they will be identified. Clear referral pathways enable staff and others to understand their role, and for the appropriate people to be brought on board quickly. Criteria for referrals should match the aims of the intervention; be clear for the street outreach teams and the service users; and be as broad as resources allow. If the general public is able to make referrals, the service and referral criteria should be advertised clearly and widely to enable appropriate use. Ensure flexibility for referral processes to change over time.
Caseworkers need to be non-judgemental and compassionate, but also understand how and when to challenge service users on their beliefs and behaviours. The approach is time and resource intensive; caseworkers need flexibility, creativity and low caseloads.
Ensure data is collected effectively to enable identification of service users and efficient resourcing. Data may include case notes and care plans, as well as administrative data such as health and criminal record. Share data to facilitate multi-disciplinary care across relevant agencies and inform impact evaluations.