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Homeless Outreach for House of Hope

May 11, 2015

House of Hope story

My name is Megan Smith and I am an outreach worker with the House of Hope CDC. House Of Hope is a nonprofit that provides a spectrum of housing and supportive services to people experiencing homelessness, with the mission of preventing and ending homelessness in Rhode Island. Toward this end, my role consists of collaborating with community partners to engage individuals not well-served by the current homeless service provision system. We’re specifically focusing on those who are staying on the streets and are experiencing significant mental health and substance use challenges.

Rhode Island recognizes the crucial importance of street outreach and coordinates these activities through the Statewide Outreach Committee facilitated by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. Interdisciplinary teams go out in multiple cities on a nightly basis to make contact and ensure the safety of those they engage.

As a part of this initiative, I conduct street outreach in Providence four times per week in teams that include formerly homeless individuals, undergraduate, medical, and social work students, coworkers, a psychiatrist, and numerous volunteers. The goal of this work is twofold: to provide supportive, nondirective witness to street homeless individuals’ lived experience, and to facilitate individuals’ connections to in-house and community based supportive services, including housing.

In the ten years that I have been doing outreach, finding a means to effectively capture data has been an ongoing challenge. Those doing this work have long recognized the importance of keeping accurate records for (1) providing continuity of care for individuals engaged; (2) ensuring coordination and accountability amongst outreach teams; and (3) documenting to agencies and funders the crucial importance of street outreach and its efficacy in reaching underserved individuals.

I was introduced to the Fulcrum app through Allison Woodworth, the co-coordinator of the Brown University student group on homelessness, Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE), and an outreach worker herself. I was immediately struck by its adaptability and ease-of-use. While I consider myself competent with technology, I am by no means a “techy” person, and this was my first foray into custom apps.

Homeless Outreach Pilot App

I created the initial version of the RI Outreach Pilot app in less than an hour. I intentionally kept the information sought basic, as quickness and user-friendliness is crucial for it to be usable during outreach. The options for services provided were taken from the codes I established when manually tabulating the services provided during my outreach in 2014 (the full list is not captured in the screen shot; there are a total of nineteen non-mutually-exclusive options, as well as an “other” category). The yes/no question “VI-SPDAT?” refers to whether the contact has a completed Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decisionmaking Assessment Tool in HMIS, the Homeless Management Information System; there is currently a statewide initiative to have all individuals experiencing homelessness complete this tool. The yes/no question “PATH Eligible?” refers to whether the contact meets the criteria for services through the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) grant through which my position is funded.

Homeless Outreach In The Field

I have been field-testing this app for two weeks now, and have found it extremely easy to use. It both takes less time to enter the data and captures more complete information, most crucially the geographic location of the contact. It is also relatively non-obtrusive. I have had a few asks about why I am pulling out my phone more than usual (the majority of the individuals I have spoken with in the past two weeks I know from previous outreach), and in general my contacts have been very open to and interested in my explanation of the app and my reasons for using it.

Two weeks in, we (three users) have logged 108 outreach contacts with 73 individuals. The data completeness for the location of the contact and the name of the individual is 100%. The data completeness for the type of service provided is 97%, with 40% having additional contact notes entered. There is 71% completeness in response to the question “follow up scheduled?” The question PATH eligible was not regularly responded to. In piloting the app, I have consciously not focused on entering perfect data for its own sake; rather I have entered data as I normally would.

I have found the app very useful in documenting patterns in contacts made with individuals, both those seen during successive outreaches and those with whom specific follow-up appointments were scheduled. I also found it helpful in holding me accountable for the outreach I do. In order for it to serve its other intended purpose of coordinating outreach across teams, we are encouraging outreach workers from other teams to utilize the app as well (the RI Outreach Pilot group currently has twenty-seven members).

As this pilot progresses, I am also keeping a list of ways in which the app’s functionality can be optimized for our particular needs. The Fulcrum team has been tremendously supportive and encouraging of this initiative, and I am very much looking forward to our future conversations about maximizing this app’s utility and continuing its use in Rhode Island. I am tremendously impressed by the work of the Fulcrum team and am thrilled about the potential this collaboration holds for our work in Rhode Island.