Q & A on Avivo’s new street outreach program with manager David Jeffries

Over the past year, Avivo has successfully partnered with Red Lake Nation to house individuals from last year’s homeless encampment and Navigation Center in Minneapolis. Now, we’re starting a brand-new street outreach program focused on indigenous people living on the streets.

Following is a Q & A with Avivo’s new Street Outreach program manager David Jeffries:

Why is this new street outreach program starting, and what are its short- and long-term goals?

The goal of Avivo’s street outreach program is to engage and serve indigenous people who struggle with opioid use disorders and homelessness. We intend to establish trust in the short term, and begin navigating systems and tracking program outcomes for long-term goals. All of these are impacted by the self-efficacy of the people we serve.

Why is it so important right now to be getting out and meeting who are living with addiction and experiencing homelessness?

We are in a crisis in our country with the level of poverty and homelessness. That, coupled with the insidiousness of addiction, it just makes sense to create person-centered programs that engage people surviving on the streets, sleeping in parks and under bridges, or living on the Greenway in Minneapolis. Bringing braided supportive services, housing, and healthcare access to people living on the streets is one way we can fight this epidemic.

Tell us about your background in street outreach for opioid abuse and homelessness. What are some of the strengths individuals on your team bring?

I began my outreach career in 2008 at St. Stephen’s Street Outreach. I had great teachers there, who taught me how to connect with people living outside, how to use the public safety net to find healthcare, navigate systems, and most importantly — taught me about housing.

Not everyone who works with people experiencing homelessness can do street outreach. It takes a certain skill level, empathy, trauma-informed approach, relentlessness, and systems knowledge. You need to hit the streets, day-in and day-out, no matter if it’s negative 40 degrees or a heat index of 100. Street outreach workers must stay consistent and not make promises they can’t keep. Ultimately, it’s a matter of gaining a person’s trust that makes it all work.

That describes the street outreach team here at Avivo, and I’m humbled to be a part of it. Team member Alayna worked at the Navigation Center last winter and brings her knowledge of the Emergency Shelter System. Team member Halie brings an understanding of the supportive housing system for singles and families. They are very determined and focused people who serve the community well.

How do you introduce yourself in outreach and what questions do you ask?

I just tell them, “Hi, my name is David.” One question I’ll ask is, “Where did you sleep last night?” Their answer usually explains why we’re outside talking with people and informs what we do next.

Where are you meeting people living on the streets?

We haven’t traveled far from our offices on Chicago and Franklin Avenues, because we are located close to those in need. We’re busy working to engage people about our program; really focusing on establishing relationships, and connecting people to the braided services of healthcare and housing.

What are some community supports needed – or other agencies to partner with, and how can they help?

The obvious one is housing. I’ll go further and say we need more social housing. Social housing is any rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, non-profit organizations, a cooperative, or by a combination of the three, with the aim of providing affordable housing. Social housing can also be potential remedy to housing inequality that we face in America and indeed the world.

We are in the beginning stages of partnering with the community and learning who can do what and when, for people seeking services on the street. We are building relationships with the Native American Community Clinic, other indigenous-focused outreach programs, Minneapolis Police, and the neighborhood, to serve people in a more coordinated way. Agencies can help by taking a harm reduction approach when working with someone who has an opioid use disorder and living outside. Many times this can lead to abstinence or at least opens the door to a larger conversation about the future and what works best for the individual.

If you’re in need of assistance from Avivo’s Street Outreach Team, you can reach them at 612.499.7959.