Outreach is about peer support, building trust, and positive outcomes

OLYMPIA —  Olympia Mayoral Candidate Nathaniel Jones is calling for bold action to reduce homelessness, the single largest problem facing our community. He says that current response efforts are weak and inadequate. 

Along with other performance management strategies, Jones is committed to effective outreach practices that meet people where they are and build a pathway back to productivity.  In Thurston County, many homeless individuals do not trust the systems that are intended to help them transition back into the community.  Effective outreach and engagement is key to reducing homelessness, yet this seems to be missing from Olympia’s toolbox.

Innovative outreach strategies are beginning in Thurston County, and the early results are good. The success of GROWL, a union of outreach workers in Thurston County, reinforces the findings of federal and academic researchers.  By offering support and solutions that help in the moment, volunteers and ‘peer navigators’ begin the process of moving people away from homelessness. 

“These types of outreach methods need to be dramatically expanded as part of our larger strategy.  While non-traditional,” Jones said, “They offer cost effective methods to reach homeless people and bring them back into the community.”

Traditional outreach, ‘embedded social workers’ usually means a caseworker with a police escort. Our neighbors without homes often live in fear of being discovered, evicted, or worse. Authority-based outreach usually doesn’t work to foster a positive connection.  This is not a new strategy for Olympia, although past efforts were small scale and fully volunteer. Reaching people where they are, and eliminating fear, will work. That’s the Olympia Way.

“This newly emerging outreach model,” says Jones, “Is one piece of the strategy. We need bold structural change to address our homeless problem.”