COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: Comprehensive, Coordinated, and Ongoing Housing-Focused Outreach

June 13, 2024
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This is part of a series on alternatives to criminalization that are humanely and effectively helping people move off streets and into homes. Read other alternatives to criminalization at


Not all homelessness outreach is the same. The most effective outreach connects people directly with housing and health care, including mental health and substance use treatment, and it is based on a foundation of trust and consistency. This increases the likelihood of people accepting housing, shelter, and services. When permanent housing is not immediately available—as it often is not—outreach efforts should connect people with interim options that promote dignity, respect, and pathways to permanent housing. 

In May, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released 19 Strategies for Communities to Address Encampments Humanely and Effectively. One of the strategies urges communities to conduct comprehensive, coordinated, and ongoing housing-focused outreach as a key component of a comprehensive response to unsheltered homelessness.

No community has all the solutions—or the resources to meet every need—but many communities are implementing promising approaches that are showing positive results. One powerful example is Hennepin County, Minnesota. 

Here’s how Erin Wixsten, principal planning analyst and program manager for Streets to Housing at the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness, explains their approach:

Hennepin County’s Streets to Housing Program differs from traditional models of street outreach, which focus overwhelmingly on basic needs and survival. Traditional outreach focuses on managing the crisis. Streets to Housing focuses on resolving the crisis. 

Our street-based team provides trauma-informedhousing-focused services to connect people with safe alternatives to living outside. The team partners with mutual aid groups that take care of other basic needs like food and water. The experience of homelessness itself is traumatic, and most people who are living in encampments suffered trauma before losing their homes. Trauma often manifests as behavior that is interpreted as disrespect and unwillingness to engage, but our staff are trained to understand the effect of trauma and how to support trauma survivors.

Streets to Housing was developed by people actively experiencing unsheltered homelessness, and they were compensated for their time. People with lived experience are part of our seven-member outreach team, which has six system navigators and one opioid use disorder specialist. Our outreach team also has representation from two groups of people who disproportionately experience homelessness: people of color and people with substance use disorders

In Hennepin County, people of color make up 85% of people experiencing homelessness but only 34% of the overall population. The Streets to Housing model views homelessness as a consequence of societal and system failures that have resulted in racial inequity and adverse impacts on people of color. Our trauma-informed and housing-focused work helps reduce those disparities.

Our Streets to Housing team meets people where they want. We offer our services either on-site in encampments and other places not meant for human habitation, as well as in site-based locations, such as a library, for people who prefer not to meet at the encampment. We help people navigate complex systems that offer benefits, shelter, and housing. Encampment residents determine not only when and where Streets to Housing can provide services but what is and is not allowed, and they drive decisions about their housing or shelter. 

Our outreach teams work with people before, during, and after they transition out of an encampment, and we aim to move people inside long before encampments are potentially closed. Due to our strong relationships with our regional property-owning partners and our proactive outreach, we limit the number of enforcement-reliant closures of encampments. 

Every month, Streets to Housing engages an average of 65 people and helps 48 transition into housing or shelter. People are quickly identified, triaged, and supported to navigate a path to housing. From our inception in August 2022 through June 10, 2024, Streets to Housing has helped 304 people move into permanent housing and 179 people move into emergency shelter or temporary housing. Although emergency shelter is often part of the path to a safe and affordable home, the ultimate goal of Streets to Housing is in the name—housing.

The Streets to Housing model was developed with the understanding that the solution to homelessness is housing, that all people want housing options that meet their unique situations, and that it is the job of systems to help people navigate them and overcome barriers to housing.


USICH is looking for effective, innovative, and humane ways communities on the East Coast are implementing one or more of USICH’s 19 encampment strategies. Submissions are due June 14.

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