A lot of communities conduct street outreach, but there’s no obvious place for this information to go in HIFIS 4.
Street outreach involves moving outside the walls of the agency to engage people experiencing homelessness who may be disconnected and alienated not only from mainstream services and supports, but from the services targeting homeless persons as well. –Homeless Hub
Street outreach is when a worker goes outside of their place of employment to deliberately connect with people experiencing homelessness, whether they are sleeping on the streets, in camps, or even on couches. Outreach workers connect homeless people with the supports and services they need to move these individuals and families to permanent housing.
Street outreach workers usually target unsheltered homeless people. Because of this, outreach workers target a population that is more difficult to count. They don’t occupy a finite number of shelter beds every night, so it’s harder to measure the scope of unsheltered homelessness. This is one of the many reasons why it’s particularly important to record the activities of outreach workers – to have a better idea of the population they’re serving.
The first challenge, when it comes to recording outreach activities, is consent.
Almost every service that can be provided in HIFIS must be tied to a client file. In order to create a client file, you need the client’s consent to put their information into a shared database. Some communities find that people who are unsheltered are the same people who don’t consent to data collection. Therefore, they can’t go into HIFIS.
On of the few places you can record a service for an anonymous client is in the Group Activities module. That means that it’s one of the only places where you can record the service provided to a client who hasn’t provided consent.
A Group Activity is intended for just what the name implies – group meetings, like cooking classes or AA meetings. It’s not ideal to capture street outreach activities. However, for communities that aren’t able to obtain consent for their unsheltered homeless population, there are few options.
It could work because there’s fields for staff to record where they went, what time they went, how long they spent, and record notes.
When recording the Group Activity, staff specify the number of Anonymous Attendees there were:
And then, optionally, staff can record the demographics about these people:
For some communities, this may be the best option.
Goods and Services
If obtaining consent is not a problem in your community, you have better options. One option is to use the Goods & Services module, in particular the Express Service option. The Goods & Services module allows you to record which services were provided to clients.
This approach has some advantages: a service is recorded, it is an outreach service, and it can be attached to a Program.
Calls and Visits Log
The other option in HIFIS is to record outreach activities through the Calls and Visits Log. The Calls and Visits Log is intended for secure buildings to use when they need to track visitors, and incoming and outgoing calls. Technically, Calls and Visits Log records aren’t services, nor are they part of a Program. However, aside from these challenges, the fields might be more appropriate for outreach activities. They are records of visits that occur at specific times, with specific clients, in specific geographic regions.
Many communities struggle to find a good place to record outreach in HIFIS. The biggest challenge is obtaining consent from clients.
Use Group Activities if:
- You don’t have consent for all the people who are the target of outreach services
Use Calls and Visits if:
- You’re not using the Calls and Visits Log for anything else
- You consider street outreach to be a fairly unique program that you offer
- Outreach is the only program you offer
Use Goods and Services if:
- You consider street outreach to be a one of the many services or programs you offer
- You’re interested in aggregating the stats of outreach clients in with other clients (for example, “how many clients did we serve across outreach, food banks, and shelters?”)
Regardless of which approach you take, make sure that it’s consistent across all your outreach workers, system-wide. It’s no good if some teams use the Calls and Visits Log and some use Group Activities – you’ll never be able to aggregate the data.
What do you think is the best method? Has your community found another solution that works well? Am I missing something important? Is there a need for a change to HIFIS 4 to accommodate outreach better? Let me know what you think!