Meaningful engagement has a few different meanings for work with individuals experiencing homelessness, including involving them in community-based research, creating participatory evaluations or providing supports and activities that foster growth, independence and full participation in society. It is the last concept that we will explore in this section.
For many homelessness organizations, meaningful engagement is centered around preparing individuals for education, training and employment; the potential is much broader than that however. It is important to create a sense of community and to provide activities to avoid the isolation and social exclusion that sometimes occurs after a formerly homeless individual becomes housed. While living on the streets or in shelters they had access to a social support network including other homeless people, residents and staff that may be lost after housing.
Homeless Link in the United Kingdom says, “Meaningful occupation and activities can give homeless people something positive to do with the aim of building their self-esteem, developing their skills and building social networks away from the streets. Activities are also important in in preventing the boredom that may lead people to turn back to the streets, to alcohol or drugs.”
The types of activities and services provided depend upon many factors including number and demographics of participants, supports, funding, geography etc. For young people it may include life skills training and activities that help them gain independence and develop a strong sense of self-worth. Youth who grow up in a supportive family structure are nurtured by their parents and caregivers to develop positive relationships with others, connect to the broader community and become involved in meaningful and fulfilling relationships with others. Developing meaningful activities for youth means building on their existing strengths and providing them with access to positive relationships and activities to help them make better decisions about risk.
For seniors and the elderly there may be a need to provide adult day programs or supports to ensure that they aren’t alone and socially isolated. This may include programs that visit seniors in their home for those that are house-bound or shut-in including visiting libraries, Meals on Wheels and home health care.
For people of any age there is a need for recreational, cultural, social and volunteer activities. Meaningful engagement may also help provide people with the supports and skills that they need to engage in the workforce.