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Modernizing Your Outreach Strategy: Lessons from Our New Whitepaper

What does “addressing unsheltered homelessness” mean to you?

Ensuring your unhoused neighbors can access potable water? Identifying and mapping encampments? Reporting your progress back to key stakeholders to secure more funding? Demonstrating the necessity of stronger legislation to policymakers?

Most likely, many (or all) of these things came to mind when we asked the question. The reason is simple: Unsheltered homelessness is an extremely complex issue. Even today, many communities still rely on outdated outreach strategies that are siloed from the homelessness response system — a disjointed approach that leads to subpar outcomes.

If your community is going to effectively and equitably address homelessness, your encampment resolution initiative needs to navigate this complexity through collaboration, transparency, and rock-solid processes and protocols.

In this post, we’ll cover the key points from our new whitepaper, Implementing a Modern-Day Outreach Response, which gives an in-depth look at how your community can conduct a successful encampment resolution initiative while serving unhoused folks with compassion, respect, and dignity. 

Thank you for joining us! 

From Strategy to Resolution: A Modern Approach

Every encampment resolution initiative has one purpose: improving outcomes for individuals experiencing homelessness. From strategizing to monitoring and reporting, here’s an overview of what you need to know to achieve that critical goal.

Creating a Modern Outreach Strategy

No two communities are the same, but there are underlying principles that should inform your encampment resolution strategy. 

Harm Reduction
Rather than focusing on dramatic changes (for example, abstinence from a substance), harm reduction aims to minimize the negative consequences of use (by, for example, providing safe disposal facilities).

Person-Centered Care
Unhoused individuals should have power in the decision-making process. A person-centered commitment means tailoring solutions to their unique situation and story and seeking to give them a voice as decisions are made.

Personal Safety
Whether by providing access to sanitation facilities, medical care, or social services, making encampments safer reduces the risks of diseases, violence, and other harms associated with unregulated encampments.

With these key values in mind, your community should create an encampment response entity — a team that coordinates providers, deploys resources, monitors performance, and oversees reporting. It should comprise individuals with lived experience, CoC representatives, HMIS system administrators, and several other community stakeholders. (For a full list, check out our whitepaper!)

This team ought to be person-centered in outreach and, equally importantly, data-driven in decision-making.

The Power of Data

Accurate and consistent data is the foundation of a comprehensive response to unsheltered homelessness. 

Data collection strategies should be well-defined, incorporated into outreach workflows, and documented within policies and procedures. Rules should also be in place for sharing data with providers and community partners.

Remember: Safeguarding the privacy and safety of vulnerable individuals ensures that they can access essential services without fear of exploitation, harassment, or discrimination, facilitating their path toward housing stability.

If you want to learn more about the role of data in your resolution initiative, check out the Bitfocus Outreach Toolkit

Devising an Encampment Assessment Tool

To better serve the folks in an encampment, you need a clear picture of what life’s like there. Though HUD encourages the use of an assessment tool, it doesn’t endorse a specific tool. As such, you’ll be able to create or adapt a tool to best meet your local needs.

 At Bitfocus, we recommend covering four key domains in your assessments:

  • General Info: Location, number of sites, types of structures, presence of children, etc.
  • Health: Medical conditions, behavioral health conditions, access to potable water, etc.
  • Safety: Violence or harassment against residents, observation of weapons, etc.
  • Environmental Impact: Level of debris, presence of waste, risk of flooding, etc. 

Here’s a Bitfocus Sample Assessment to help you get started!

Prioritization Practices

Many of the steps leading up to this point — developing data collection protocols, leveraging an encampment assessment tool, and more — are in service of a vital step in the initiative: prioritizing encampments for intervention. 

There are several criteria your community can use to prioritize, including:

  • Size & scope of the encampment
  • Legal & regulatory violations
  • Flood or fire risk
  • High-risk health conditions
  • Intersection with public spaces and thoroughfares
  • Risk of victimization

Then, your community can deliver services based on levels of need:

Indicator Response
No Risk Observed No Action
Low Levels Observed Continued Monitoring
Moderate Levels Observed Mitigation Recommended
High Immediate Mitigation of Intervention Required

Service Provision 

Delivering services is the most important part of an encampment resolution initiative — in your community and across the nation. 

When done properly, supported by a comprehensive strategy and robust, high-quality data, service provision can vastly improve the quality of life for unhoused individuals, both in the short- and long-term. 

As your community crafts a plan for service delivery, keep the following refrain in mind: type, intensity, and timeline.

  • Type of Services: An infectious disease outbreak will require a different approach compared to high levels of substance use.
  • Intensity of Services: Highly vulnerable populations might need ongoing support aimed at transitioning into permanent housing, while other populations may require less urgent interventions.
  • Timeline of Services: Communities should create reasonable timeframes and benchmarks as they seek to improve the well-being and stability of unhoused individuals with compassion, dignity, and respect

Encampment Abatement & Closures

When encampment closures do become necessary, it’s crucial to carefully consider the circumstances of the encampment. Prioritizing the needs and dignity of the affected population is paramount. Communities can do this by:

  • Developing procedures using an inclusive and transparent process that fields input from folks with lived experience.
  • Notifying encampment residents (personally, when possible) so they can prepare and seek alternatives.
  • Offering transition support to displaced individuals by way of low-barrier interim housing options.
  • Providing access to personal storage to ease the transition and build trust between residents and service providers.

Reporting & Monitoring

Naturally, your community shouldn’t simply enact an initiative and hope it works in the long run. Establishing a protocol for monitoring (and improving!) your initiative is a core piece of the process.

A successful resolution initiative will be guided by data collection and analysis to identify patterns and trends, ideally powered by geospatial analytics. You’ll need clearly defined metrics and benchmarks, as well as regular reporting, to ensure that everything stays on the right track. Transparent communication and a commitment to continuous improvement will also drive success in your strategy.

Finally, your community should double- and triple-check that you’re upholding key legal and ethical standards, including privacy regulations and informed consent, to ensure that the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness are protected. 

Elevate Your Encampment Resolution Initiative

Ending unsheltered homelessness requires a great deal of collaboration. At Bitfocus, we’re always eager to make new connections as we partner with communities in our shared mission to end homelessness. 

If you’d like a full walkthrough of our approach to resolving encampments with compassion and respect, check out our full whitepaper, Implementing a Modern Day Outreach Response, today!

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