A Day with the Outreach Team
The clues blend into the urban landscape, hidden from view for most.
For a trained eye, however, they appear like giant red stop signs: a curled up portion of a fence, a flattened cardboard box behind a hedge, or a car parked just far enough away from all the others.
These are the signs of people who are homeless, and for the outreach workers at Abode Services, these are the signs they look for every day.
“When I’m riding around, I’m always looking,” said Ron DiMichele, HOPE Outreach Services Coordinator. “Everyone is in plain sight, but people don’t notice them.”
Ron has spent three years seeking to connect with people who have no place to live. His office is on the streets, in the parks, under the bridges, and along the creek banks of Fremont, Hayward, and Livermore.
Ron is a member of HOPE Project at Abode Services, a team that works with people who are living on the street.
The team’s goal is to build a trusting relationship with every person team members meet. That trust is built through repeated contacts and helpful offerings from outreach team members, such as snacks and water.
Earning trust is the first step in the journey to a new home. With a trusting relationship, an outreach team member can begin offering support to a person who is working towards a life in a new home.
People are routinely assisted with getting an identification card, figuring out their social security number or applying for veteran benefits. Many are connected to health services.
Together, the services build a platform towards moving a person into a home.
To earn trust, outreach team members try to leave a lasting first impression. Every team member has a car trunk full of supplies. When team members seek out those in need, they carry backpacks stuffed with water bottles, granola bars and fruit snacks.
And when they approach an encampment, they make their intentions clear.
"HOPE Project! HOPE Project," Ron and fellow outreach team member Cassandra Kovalkevich shouted during a recent excursion in Hayward.
The people living in the roughly two dozen tents began to rustle around.
"We have some water and some snacks," Ron said as he stands about five yards away from the encampment.
Eventually, a man peeked through his tent door and began talking with Ron and Cassandra.
"I could use some water, thanks," the man said as Ron began offering snacks, hand sanitizer and some wet wipes.
Since the man appeared willing to engage in further conversation, Ron asked for the man's name and provided him with information about our mobile health clinic and information on how he can contact Ron in the future when he is seeking services.
"Thanks, I'm gonna check this out," the man said.
Encounters like these are routine for the outreach team, which visits encampments on almost a daily basis.
It's important for outreach workers to strike a balance between being forward enough to spark a conversation, but not so aggressive in their approach that they alienate a population that has often lost trust and hope.
The people the outreach team meets are some of the most vulnerable people we serve. They live in tattered tents, cardboard boxes, or storefront alcoves to guard against the elements. They are likely living with serious health conditions and have been homeless for extended periods.
“We reach out to the folks that are harder to target,” Ron said recently as he walked along a dirt path towards an encampment in Hayward. “These are the folks that are not going to make it to our other services.”
The outreach team’s success in Fremont led to its expansion in other cities such as Hayward and Livermore. Now the team, which began with Ron and Cassandra seeking out people in Fremont, has seven members working five days a week in three municipalities.
“Outreach and engagement are critical components of our response to homelessness,” said Livermore Police Chief Michael Harris, who has worked extensively with outreach staff. “Abode is able to connect with people where they are, build trust and then provide critical services, ensuring that the most vulnerable people are being housed.”
Outreach team members look for people who are homeless in locations they've learned are frequented by people seeking shelter, or through referrals from our partners.
Ron carries a list of descriptions of people who have been referred to the team each time he goes on an outreach.
During a recent outreach, Ron drove to a strip mall near the interchange of Highway 92 and Interstate 880 in search of a woman on his list. The woman was seen the day before, asking for change in front of a Lucky's Supermarket.
Ron didn't find the woman, but found a couple who were homeless and in need of help.
Ron gave both his business card and information about the mobile clinic. Once back in his car, Ron logged the interaction with the couple. He recorded their names, where he met them, and the date and time.
"We'll come back in a few days to check on them," Ron said.