36 Lessons from Street Outreach

September 2009

  1. Roll with resistance.
  2. Never give up on anyone.
  3. Meet people where they are.
  4. Refer. Refer. Refer. And thus, the corollary: learn about community resources.
  5. Develop trust..
  6. Keep hope alive.
  7. Help to envision better futures and set goals. Imagine that person reaching their highest potentiality.
  8. Don't blame people for having symptoms of their illnesses.
  9. Always take care of yourself above all.
  10. Remain positive in the face of negativity.
  11. Emphasize present-oriented solutions over dwelling on the past.
  12. Don't expect people to do what YOU think they need to do. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.
  13. Be totally present. Listen. Give eye contact. Listen.
  14. Learn about mental illness, about addiction, about poverty, about disability.
  15. Respect. Compassion. Love.
  16. Learn about all forms of healing. Meditation. Diet. Exercise. Spirituality. Herbs.
  17. Consider how many traumatized people in crisis are having “spirituals emergencies”. Develop your spirituality. Accept all other spiritualities. Use this as a resource to keep going.
  18. Develop a social justice perspective—that means working with others to change the structural conditions which hold them down. Empower people to self-sufficiency.
  19. Learn about motivational interviewing and how to ask questions based on the cycle of change.
  20. Don't give advice. If you must suggest a course of action, ask the person if it is okay for you to give a suggestion or for you to say what you would do in that situation.
  21. Show people:
    a. how gratitude leads to happiness;
    b. how our choice of attitude is everything;
    c. how our patterns of thinking shape our emotional state;
    d. how to take care of themselves.
  22. Re-affirm that miracles happen.
  23. Cultivate connections with people on the streets and other street outreach workers.
  24. Remember that all forms of recovery happen in relationships
  25. Know that some people need you to lend them your “executive reasoning”.
  26. Assume that individuals are engaged in the best form of self-care that they understand that you can teach then other, more appropriate forms of self-care.
  27. Think holistically and systemically.
  28. Teach harm reduction techniques and rituals of controlled use.
  29. Substance use can be self-medication and thus a form of self-care. Substance use can also represent a “thirst for wholeness” ad be sacramental to entheogenic shamanism.
  30. It is not what initially happens to someone that is crucial, but what they are choosing to do about it now.
  31. It is okay to look back. Just don't stare.
  32. Consider obstacles as “lessons”.
  33. Avoid “irrational beliefs” such as filtering, polarized thinking, overgeneralization, mind reading, catastrophizing, personalization, shoulds, being right
  34. Don't take it personally..
  35. Teach people about low frustration tolerance.
  36. Build self-esteem through constructive praise.