Good Works, Better Practices, Great Homes
An interactive guide to operating AIDS housing



Every program will have certain things its residents are required to do, whether it is as simple as meeting with a case manager periodically, or as onerous as providing urine samples for toxicology screening. Many of these rules are necessary to ensure that the program is providing effective services, or maintaining a safe living environment for all participants. Again, it is important to remember that many of these requirements may feel coercive to someone whose only other living option is homelessness. In the case of each requirement, you may ask:

  • Is this requirement absolutely necessary to meet a specific goal or objective of the program?
  • Is it narrowly tailored to meet that goal or objective?
  • What will the consequences be for a resident who fails to follow this requirement?
  • Can these consequences be consistently and fairly applied?
  • Will the rule restrict client rights?
  • What infractions will lead to discharge from the program?
  • Are all requirements and their consequences clearly communicated to residents?

In order to maintain the integrity of the program, it is essential that clients feel that they and other residents are treated fairly with respect to rules and requirements. To this end, the process by which rules are applied and consequences are enforced may be more important than the substance of the rules. The best way to lose the clients’ respect is to appear to be playing fast and loose with the rules.  For example, program rules and their consequences will need to be clearly communicated before a client enters the program. If a consequence is imposed on a client who was unaware of the rule she has broken, she will feel unfairly treated. Similarly, if different consequences are applied to different people for breaking the same rule, clients will feel there is bias or injustice. Finally, the more that clients are involved in decision-making on a variety of levels in the program, the more ownership they will feel, which ultimately leads to an overall sense of fairness and democracy.

It may be useful here to say another word about the dual role of program staff. Whenever a program finds it necessary to impose some disciplinary procedure on a client, it can threaten the empowerment model of case management. Very often, probationary agreements begin to look like case management plans, with the exception that a probationary agreement has a coercive power behind it. This is because the client knows that the program has the power to discharge him. These agreements can be very useful when used as an alternative to discharging the client. They should not, however, be used to push the client to meet goals in a case management plan. Furthermore, a probationary agreement should always remain distinct from the client-driven case management plan. One possibility is to have all probationary agreements (sometimes called "program contracts") executed between the program director and the participant, rather than between the case manager and the participant. This preserves the advocacy role of the case manager.

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