Homelessness 101: What Do You Need to Know?

What is the basic knowledge that every direct service provider needs to know? The Homelessness Resource Center reviews need-to-know training topics to help service providers do their jobs. Join the HRC at a free Regional Training to learn more about how to integrate best practices into your daily work.

Join the HRC in Tacoma, Washington in 2010 for a FREE training on innovative strategies for providing homeless services and creating environments that are person-centered, recovery-oriented, and trauma-informed. To learn more about upcoming training events, send an email to generalinquiry@center4si.com.

All service providers need a basic orientation to the world of homeless services. Since providers come from various disciplines and bring different levels of knowledge and skills, the Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) has developed a curriculum designed to orient workers to the field. In addition to providing vital background information, the curriculum focuses on a range of best practices for serving people who are homeless.

The HRC training curriculum teaches innovative strategies for providing homeless services and creating environments that are person-centered, recovery-oriented and trauma-informed. Various combinations of the core curriculum are taught at HRC Regional Trainings, and are also available for targeted on-site technical assistance upon request. Stay tuned for information on upcoming trainings in other parts of the country, and for online training modules.

The HRC core curriculum includes the following modules:

  • Homelessness in America: Where We’ve Come From, Where We’re Going. A quick tour of the history of homelessness in America, with emphasis on structural causes and the importance of care that is evidence-based, person-centered, recovery-oriented, and trauma-informed.
  • People & Issues. Homelessness affects people of all ages, genders, cultures, and backgrounds. Service needs differ among subgroups, but also within subgroups. Topics include: understanding subpopulations of people who are homeless; common concerns across subpopulations; and strategies for assessing clients and responding to service needs.
  • Taking it to the Streets: Strategies for Outreach and Engagement. People experiencing homelessness face many barriers in accessing services. These barriers include lack of transportation, telephone, mail, health insurance, and knowledge of existing services. Outreach and engagement can help overcome some of these barriers by serving people in non-traditional settings—in the shelter, on the streets, in a park, in a camp, or in the woods.
  • Basic Skills of Motivational Interviewing (MI). Motivational Interviewing has been widely implemented in medicine and behavioral health care. This evidence-based practice assesses clients’ readiness for change and helps them move toward positive behavior change.
  • Shelter from the Storm: Creating Trauma-Informed Homeless Services. The stress of being homeless is often compounded by past traumatic experiences. Many people who are homeless have endured catastrophic illness, violence, combat, abrupt separations, and physical or sexual abuse. Traumatic stress affects every aspect of a person’s life, including her physical and mental health, responses to danger, relationships, decision-making sense of self, and housing and employment. Providers need to understand the relationship between homelessness and traumatic stress and how to apply trauma concepts to their day-to-day work.
  • Basics of Mental Health, Physical Health, and Substance Use. Homeless service workers need a working knowledge of the physical ailments, mental health issues, and substance use problems that homeless individuals experience.
  • Dealing with Crisis: Prevention, Response, and Debriefing. Due to high rates of mental health and substance use problems among homeless populations, providers are often faced with violent or potentially violent situations. Experienced providers anticipate problems before they happen. They can prevent situations from escalating out of control and keep themselves and those around them safe. This module includes approaches to preventing conflict and crises, techniques for de-escalation, and post-crisis debriefing.
  • Recovery and Hope: Cultivating Belief in People. The principles of recovery have often been limited to people who wrestle with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Over the past decade, mental health consumer activists have advocated for recovery principles in mental health, co-occurring disorders, and trauma services. Those working with people experiencing homelessness know the importance of holding out hope and belief in recovery. Providers need to know practical ways of applying the concepts of recovery and hope to homeless services.
  • More than Diversity: Creating Culturally Competent Services. Cultural and linguistic competence is an ongoing process of learning. This process helps service providers to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. It is important to introduce providers to potential cultural barriers for people seeking services; principles of cultural and linguistic competence; and strategies for providing services and creating organizations that are sensitive to diverse client needs.
  • Documentation Tips and Tricks. Homeless service providers contribute to various client records including mental health, substance use, and medical charts. It is important for providers to understand the basics of taking notes and keeping records. Providers may help clients to apply for benefits and entitlements or document a disability.
  • Healthy Teams, Healthy Selves. Providers rely on each other for support, to share information and strategies, and to work together to help a client. Providers need to be taught the importance of working in teams to serve clients more effectively. Equally important is teaching staff to maintain awareness about the potential for burnout and the importance of self-care.
  • It Takes a Village: Community Collaboration and Effective Referrals. The complex needs of clients often require a coordinated response – and relationships are at the heart of this approach. Collaboration can involve participating in networks and coalitions, visiting other agencies, accompanying clients to appointments, and conducting outreach to community partners to inform them of available services.
Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA