Tips for Outreach Workers by Outreach Workers

On February 13, 2008, several outreach workers from around the country gathered in Boston to discuss the skills needed for effective outreach. In the course of their discussion, they came up with some tips for other outreach workers. Here they are.

  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.
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