Assertive outreach is becoming an increasingly salient feature of policy responses to homelessness—and particularly rough sleeping—with the aim of supporting people to access secure housing. Despite its demonstrated successes, existing research points to structural challenges practitioners face in navigating complex and fragmented service systems to provide people sleeping rough with a continuum of care. This study examines an Australian organisation’s efforts to collaboratively and systematically overcome these challenges by bringing together government, community, and service practitioners from multiple sectors in their delivery of an assertive outreach programme.
Our findings demonstrate that through flexible and collaborative social work practices, practitioners were able to see people sleeping rough, share information across services, and support people into a range of housing, health, and other forms of services. Critically, however, structural barriers such as a lack of affordable and social housing prevented assertive outreach from ending people’s homelessness.
Our findings demonstrate that a purposeful approach to integrate street outreach within a broader housing, health, and welfare systems is indeed appropriate to identify, engage, and support people sleeping rough who are excluded from mainstream services and resources. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, our findings demonstrate that additional work by practitioners will not be successful in supporting people into secure housing while there is an inadequate supply of affordable or social housing. The current under-investment in such affordable and social housing is a fundamental barrier to the success of assertive outreach programmes, indicating the ongoing need for policy and structural change.