Street Outreach for Homeless Persons with Serious Mental Illness Is It Effective?
Julie A. Lam and Robert Rosenheck
This study examined data on case management clients who are homeless and have a severe mental illness to determine how those contacted through street outreach differ in their socio-demographic characteristics, service needs, and outcomes from those clients contacted in shelters and other health and social service agencies. As part of the Center for Mental Health Services' Access to Community Care and Effective Services and Supports (ACCESS) program, data were obtained from potential clients over the first 3 years of the program at the time of the first outreach contact (n = 11,857), at the time of enrollment in the case management program (n = 5,431), and 3 months after enrollment (n = 4,587). Clients contacted at outreach on the street, as opposed to being contacted in shelters and service agencies, were generally worse off. They were more likely to be male, to be older, to spend more nights literally homeless before the contact, to have psychotic disorders, and took longer to engage in case management. They expressed less interest in treatment and were less likely to enroll in the case management phase of the project. Subjects contacted on the street who did enroll were more impaired than their street counterparts who did not enroll. Three month outcome data showed that enrolled clients contacted through street outreach showed improvement that was equivalent to those enrolled clients contacted in shelters and other service agencies on nearly all outcome measures. Street outreach to homeless persons with serious mental illness is justified as these clients are more severely impaired, have more basic service needs, are less motivated to seek treatment, and take longer to engage than those contacted in other settings. Street outreach is further justified as it engages the most severely impaired among the street population. Street outreach also appears to be effective as the clients reached in this way showed improvement equal to that of other clients in most outcome domains when baseline differences were taken into account.