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Cross-system homeless outreach efforts

Multiple agencies, including the police department and housing partners, collaborate to identify people who are experiencing homelessness and connect them to housing supports and other services. 

Local Examples

Cambridge, MA

  • In 2016, a collaboration between the Cambridge Police Department (CPD), Department of Human Service Programs, local service providers, and shelters led to the founding of the Multi-Disciplinary Outreach team. This team meets weekly to review individual cases of people who repeatedly cycle between the behavioral health and justice systems and coordinate outreach and service engagement plans.
  • The CPD’s Homeless Outreach Unit comprises two officers whose work has expanded beyond the initial scope of transporting people to hospitals or shelters to a comprehensive, problem-solving case management approach.
  • Through its Family and Social Justice Section, officers are given specialty assignments working with youth, people with behavioral health needs, residents experiencing homelessness, or other populations with complex needs. Through in-service and roll-call training on available services and resources, CPD ensures that beat officers have the tools needed to support the Homeless Outreach officers’ work and build an agency-wide culture that centers around connection with services and resources.

Philadelphia County, PA

  • In 2018, the Center City District (CCD) launched the Ambassadors of Hope initiative, in which multidisciplinary teams consisting of officers with Crisis Intervention Team training, outreach workers, and a CCD community service representative partner to conduct homeless outreach in the district during the summer months.
  • Community responders initiate all outreach through this initiative, with law enforcement playing an essential role in de-escalation when needed.
  • Since its inception, this initiative has seen more than 300 clients accept services, about 30 percent of whom had resisted services in the past. In 2020, the initiative began deploying winter outreach teams with police officers, with the caveat that Philadelphia Police Department officers are available to support as needed.
  • In 2018, the initiative launched the Encampment Resolution Pilot to address homeless encampments. The partners dedicated 90 low-barrier shelter beds to the Encampment Resolution Pilot after finding that 93 percent of people living in encampments had substance use disorders and 65 percent had co-occurring mental illnesses. They have since connected 126 people to housing or treatment. The Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services has also committed to creating 100 units of permanent supportive housing focused on people with opioid use disorders and increasing the supply of recovery housing.



1 - Reduce bookings into jail
3 - Increase connection to treatment
4 - Reduce recidivism

Last updated: June 28, 2023