In high-quality supportive housing, staff uses a variety of proactive and creative strategies to engage tenants in services, but participation is not a condition of ongoing tenancy. Participation in services is voluntary, meaning that tenants can choose whether to participate and select the services they prefer. Research has shown that even when services are not required as a condition of tenancy, tenants participate at high rates. 
Although services are voluntary for tenants, they are not voluntary for supportive services staff. Staff are obligated to offer the services to tenants and to find effective strategies to engage them. The tips below can help staff who are seeking to effectively engage tenants.
Ensure the Proper Physical Environment
Work with tenants to ensure that you are engaging them in a space that feels comfortable and private.
- If you are meeting tenants in their home, remember you are a guest, and respect their space.
- If you are meeting tenants in a public area such as a restaurant or park, try to ensure that your conversation will not be overhead by others.
- If you are meeting tenants in an office, the space should be clean, well-lit, and have any tenant files in a separate and locked area.
Engagement Should be Non-Judgmental and Non-Threatening
- Do not choose controversial topics during initial engagement attempts.
- Be consistent and fair when communicating to tenants.
- Let tenants know their thoughts and opinions will be respected, as well as their concerns, even about the program.
Respect, Accept and Support People
- Always address tenants by name.
- Be friendly and use eye contact when talking.
- Be responsive to tenants’ requests by following up and providing an answer; whether you can grant their request isn’t as important as letting them know you’ve listened to them. Do not, however, promise any follow-up that you cannot deliver.
- Don’t turn people off by lecturing, demanding or being too analytical.
- If a tenant does not want to talk and asks you to leave, remain polite, say goodbye, and let him/her know when you will return.
Develop Active Listening Skills
- Let the tenant know what they are saying is important by keeping your attention focused and tuning into the tenant’s feelings. If you are in someone’s apartment and there is a lot of noise, suggest going into a quieter room or rescheduling when you can concentrate and hear what the person is saying.
- Reflect back what is heard.
- Ask clarifying questions and explore for meaning.
- Avoid roadblocks to listening by not offering opinions or judgments too quickly.
Let the Tenant’s Goals Drive the Services Offered
- The client should drive goals, and all services should help the client reach his/her intended goals.
- Remember, there is no such thing as a “wrong” goal.
- Reinforce and celebrate progress and achievements along the way.
- If a tenant hasn’t reached a goal in a realistic time frame, it should be viewed as a problem with the goal or the steps toward it, not with the person.
- Outline obstacles to achieving the goal and list them as steps in the process.
If one strategy for engagement doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try something else. For example:
- Offer to take the tenant out to lunch or suggest an activity that he/she might enjoy.
- Send the tenant a helpful coupon in the mail with a request to meet.
- Bring a colleague to the meeting who can add a new dimension to the interaction.
Go to the Quality Toolkit Table of Contents.