Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Social work with the homeless, Social workers-Attitudes, Homeless outreach, Chronically homeless, Vulnerable population, Street homeless, Outreach workers, Harm reduction, Relational work, Paraprofessional, Homeless persons-Services for


This exploratory/descriptive study examines the perspective of workers who provide outreach services to a population experiencing street homelessness, about the work they do. It utilizes a convenience sample derived from the diverse workforce of a five-agency collaborative in a large Northeastern U.S. city. The purpose of this study was to give voice to and contextualize the perspective of outreach workers on the nature of work with vulnerable populations. Largely missing from the literature on outreach work with the chronically homeless, the perspective of outreach workers is needed to inform an understanding of the complexities of this work and to support appropriate training and program design toward the enhancement of services to a vulnerable population. The research question that guided this study was, "How do outreach workers conceptualize their work: personally, interpersonally, professionally, and socially?" In-person semi-structured interview questions elicited participant perceptions and attitudes towards their work and consumer needs. Qualitative analysis uncovered naturally emerging patterns and themes, which were interpreted through a relational theoretical lens. Analysis of the major finding of a multi-role conceptualization of their work yielded the following salient themes: having to do the work others want done; being an advocate for homeless consumers; being "somebody to talk to" for consumers; being an insider critic of the homeless services milieu; and being the salesperson to a new life. Overarching themes characterizing their general experience of the work included: disenfranchisement; empowerment; and presence, or existing where the consumer is at. Implications for practice, policy, and research are discussed.




iii, 104 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2012. Includes bibliographical references (p. 90-98)