Psychiatric Quarterly

, Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 231-246

First online:

Outreach Workers' Experiences in a Homeless Outreach Project: Issues of Boundaries, Ethics and Staff Safety

  • Deborah FiskAffiliated withClinical Coordinator of New Haven ACCESS at Connecticut Mental Health Center, and Clinical Instructor of Social Work at Southern Connecticut State University
  • , Jaak RakfeldtAffiliated withProfessor of Social Work at Southern Connecticut State University, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University
  • , Katie HeffernanAffiliated withSocial Worker in the Office of the Public Defender
  • , Michael RoweAffiliated withProject Director of New Haven ACCESS at Connecticut Mental Health Center, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine

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Mental health professionals and researchers have emphasized the importance of conducting outreach to locate homeless persons with mental illness, and of creatively engaging these persons into a therapeutic relationship. These outreach and engagement activities raise challenging issues in the areas of client-staff boundaries, professional ethics, and staff safety. While several issues in each of these three key areas have received attention in the growing literature on homelessness, certain issues within each area remain unexplored. The authors draw from the street experiences of outreach staff in a federally funded homeless outreach project to further explore each of these areas, and suggest that experiences of outreach workers are essential in shaping and redefining work activities in these, and other important areas.