The role of ‘assertive outreach’ in addressing primary homelessness


This project explored the assertive outreach approach to addressing homelessness. Drawing on experience of policy-makers, service providers and service users in three Australian cities, it suggests that the approach has already yielded promising results in addressing primary homelessness. The study documents factors for success and some underlying principles for policy-makers and practitioners.

Project Number: 20607
Research Theme(s): Homelessness and housing
Project Leader: Phillips, Rhonda
Funding Year: 2010
Research Centre: Queensland

Published research reports

Download now Positioning Paper: No. 136: Assertive outreach
285 KB PDF Document

Download now Final Report: No. 179: The role of assertive outreach in ending 'rough sleeping'
840 KB PDF Document

Download now Research and Policy Bulletin: Issue 161: What role does assertive outreach play in ending homelessness for people who are sleeping rough?
400 KB PDF Document


The study sought to examine how assertive outreach has been conceptualized and implemented in practice in Australia, and the extent to which it is achieving its policy intent. It did this by drawing on evidence from policy-makers, service providers and service users, through three case studies in Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin.

In Sydney and Brisbane, assertive outreach involves the deliberate and strategic attempt to end a person’s homelessness. It is usually presented as a model to achieve sustainable solutions to homelessness through a Housing First philosophy. Assertive outreach draws from previous approaches by involving street based outreach, but also follow up outreach in the home (similar to supported housing or tenancy management). A distinguishing feature is its use of multi-disciplinary teams, access to specialist health professionals and availability of permanent stable housing. However in Darwin, assertive outreach is aimed at addressing anti-social behavior and a return to country (for Indigenous people who have home communities in other settlements) rather than ending homelessness and so does not have this same approach. 

The evidence from Sydney and Brisbane is that there has been progress in implementing assertive outreach programs, and they have achieved some early success. Some of the most vulnerable rough sleepers in these cities have been assisted to move to stable housing, and more could have been assisted if the housing was available. Furthermore, according to service providers in Brisbane, only 7 per cent of tenancies break down and in most of these cases, transfers to alternative housing options have been achieved.

The study outlines seven principles that should underpin assertive outreach policies and practices in Australia into the future. Of key importance for housing policy-makers is that for assertive outreach to work there must be clear pathways for timely access to appropriate, stable and affordable housing for service users, and decisions about the most appropriate housing options exiting rough sleeping should be informed by research evidence.