Outreach, when coupled with access to services, creates community linkages at both the client and systemic level. At the client level, it ensures referral to services that address problem substance use and other related health and basic needs. Systemically, it increases collaboration and coordination among service providers to maximize the use of limited resources and ensure the provision of multidisciplinary services to address the needs of individuals and their families.
Outreach is often the first step in developing relationships with the most disenfranchised people in Canada. It links people who are homeless to resources and services they want and need. Core outreach services include engagement, information and referral and direct services.
Outreach programs attempt to engage individuals who are unserved or underserved by bring services directly to where people are rather than passively waiting for them to come in to an existing program. Many barriers exist that prevent people from going directly to a provider including money, ill health, stigma and transportation barriers.
Outreach workers may visit homeless encampments (tent cities, squats) and may walk or bike through parks and back alleys searching out people sleeping rough. Some mobile programs (i.e. needle exchange services or mobile health vans) or drop-in centres/programs (i.e. a visiting street nurse, a sex worker drop-in) could also be considered a form of outreach if they are located within a community with a high concentration of people from the target group.
In some cases, people experiencing homelessness remain resistant to coming into a physical building to access services. In that case, outreach workers would continue to work with clients in their location to develop trust, build connection and provide services and assistance.
Outreach workers may also accompany clients to mainstream or homeless services as part of a case management plan. Outreach workers can help prepare clients as they begin to access services and inform staff at those agencies about the client's unique needs, strengths and interests to help ensure successful transition. Outreach workers may becoming an advocate for their client with other sectors including education, health care, child welfare and criminal justice.
In many cases, peer workers (people with a similar lived experience of homelessness, mental health issues, addiction issues etc.) may provide invaluable and effective outreach support. The benefits of hiring consumer-survivors or people with lived experience as service providers include: empathy and understanding, tolerance of unusual behaviours, ease of relating to service recipients, knowledge of available resources, positive role modelling and a strong sense of responsibility for clients. Peer workers often provide: information and referral, skills training, emotional support, self-exploration, problem identification, goal setting, action planning, and goal attainment monitoring.