Good Works, Better Practices, Great Homes
An interactive guide to operating AIDS housing
Section I: SERVICES
A. OUTREACH & REFERRAL
The goals of your outreach efforts will be 1) to disseminate information about your program to your target population, 2) to encourage potentially eligible people to apply 3) to connect people in need to services, even if they don’t qualify for your particular services. 3) to educate the community at large about your program services and about AIDS in general. Establishing a successful outreach and referral system in the initial stages of your program's operation requires knowing your clientele and developing strong community relationships. Your target population may be defined by your agency's mission and by funders. The work you do to attract consumers may be narrowed by the expectations laid out in your program design and, most likely, in your service contracts.
For instance, your program may be funded through a federal grant that permits beds for homeless individuals from the streets only. The outreach work your program needs to do will be distinct from that of a program that serves individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. These programs can accept referrals from a variety of sources: hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, shelters, jails and prisons, and AIDS service organizations, to name a few. Your program may need to hire staff experienced in street outreach or you may need to establish strong working ties with street outreach workers in shelters or with the police department or Department of Corrections. You would also want to be hospitable to walk-in, self-referred applicants or those referred by parents and relatives. All programs will need to consider their ability to welcome non-English speaking applicants and to be sensitive and culturally competent. Agencies should consider the population you serve now as well as projections of new cases and population trends as a factor when hiring staff for your programs.
Client referrals will differ dramatically in urban versus rural settings. Urban service providers may decide to narrow their referral network to a few sources such as a nearby hospital, skilled nursing facility and shelter. This will reduce a surfeit of applications. A rural program may need to broaden its service area to include neighboring towns and work with a much broader network of referral sources.
If you are having a difficult time filling beds, consider expanding your referral network and public relations efforts to include: churches, Infoline, leaflets at grocery stores and fairs. Attend community meetings that include AIDS Service Organizations as well as meetings of networks of providers that service the population served by your agency. Use your clients for referrals by letting them know there are openings and that they can refer friends and associates. Other statewide referral sources include the Department of Corrections, The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Department of Social Services as well as local community mental health agencies. If you are still in the planning stages, be sure there is a need for this service in your area!
Once established, your program will want to maintain a record of all referrals to your program. This will help you and advocacy organizations you work with better identify the level of need in your geographic area.