Home > Engaging the hard-to-reach: an evaluation of an outreach service.

Corr, Caroline (2003) Engaging the hard-to-reach: an evaluation of an outreach service. In: Pieces of the jigsaw: six reports addressing homelessness and drug use in Ireland. Dublin: Merchants Quay Ireland. 141 - 199.

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In response to local tensions arising from anti-social behaviour and public nuisance, Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) set up an Outreach Service aimed at reducing drug-related harm to problematic drug users and to the wider community. A process evaluation method was used to evaluate this service in 2000/1. Quantitative data on the client population and on the outreach services provided were collected by outreach workers in the course of 587 separate contacts with a total of 262 clients during the 10-month evaluation period. Qualitative in-depth interviews were carried out with two outreach workers. Among the main findings were: 52% of clients were aged under 25 years; 75% were homeless at some point during the year; 88% were using drugs other than alcohol and 79% were using heroin; 29% were polydrug users. Services offered by outreach workers included advice on safer drug use (39%), motivational interviewing (34%), referral to treatment services (17%), collection of used needles (8%), building rapport (84%), providing information on health issues (23%) and on accommodation (12%). Among the 99 clients who were met more than once, 19% changed to safer drug-using practices, while 50% started using more or injecting more.

The main barriers to sustaining positive behavioural change, as identified by the outreach workers, were the shortage of treatment places, long waiting lists, and lack of treatment options and effective aftercare services. The researchers concluded that the outreach service succeeded in reducing levels of public nuisance as well as reaching out to many chaotic drug users, and that it had the potential to become an innovative and proactive response to problem drug use in local communities in Dublin.

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