Community and Homeless Health Center: Outside In
Portland, Oregon |
Contact: Juliana Scholl, Clinical Services Manager

Social media is becoming a more popular way to stay connected and can be an important tool for community outreach. Many organizations, such as Outside In, are using it to spread health messages, facilitate peer-support, and share information about programs and events.

Outside In provides comprehensive medical and social services to homeless youth and other underserved populations. Through the Street RISE (Reaching Independence through Self Empowerment) program, Outside In offers substance use services to homeless youth ages 17 to 25 residing in Permanent Supportive Housing. These services include mental health, support around and training on life skills and employment, and housing assistance and stabilization. The program also offers a variety of support groups including:

  • a movie night
  • a coffee and discussion group
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training)
  • DDA (Dual Diagnosis Anonymous)
  • a drop-in acupuncture group
  • a Saturday recreation based activity

The Street RISE program builds trusting relationships and connects with clients using a variety of social media tools including Facebook, text messaging, and blogging. Street RISE uses their Facebook page to post announcements, reminders, community activities, and deadlines for enrollment and scholarships. They also use text messaging with their clients to stay in contact and send appointment reminders. The team of six staff members sends and receives about 4,000 text messages per month. Text messaging reminders have helped increase the number of clients who show up to appointments.

The entire management team at Outside In reviews their social media tools. Each program drafts parameters for clients to review and understand before using these tools. The organization has a section in their employee handbook that summarizes protocols regarding social media use with clients. The Clinical Services Manager oversees the Facebook account, which is a private account as opposed to a ‘fan’ page. Clients’ private information is not shared through the site.

Many of the 55 young people currently involved in the Street RISE program have experienced trauma. Because of this, they value the ease, predictability, and consistency of social media tools. One client remarked that texting “just feels safer” than other forms of communication. These social media tools also allow staff members to show their investment in their clients’ health by sending personalized, as opposed to automated, messages.

Outside In’s Clinical Services Manager recommends understanding your priority population’s preferred forms of communication before integrating any new social media into your program. Do research to investigate what has worked and what has not worked for other similar organizations. Outside In found that social media tools, such as Facebook and text messaging, appeal to young people in their service area. But such tools may not work well with other populations, especially those less connected to technology.

The Street RISE program is funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and has six staff members including:

  • two case managers
  • one alcohol and drug specialist
  • one employment and education specialist
  • one life skills recovery manager
  • one clinical services manager

HOP Tip: For more information about social media use for community health programs, check out: