Some Tips for Making Good Referrals

patient_referralsWhen homeless people look to rescue missions for help, they come with a wide variety of needs.   These include:

  • food, clothing and shelter
  • job counseling and training
  • legal assistance
  • literacy training and other educational skills
  • parenting skills training
  • family and couples counseling
  • medical care and family planning services
  • social support services
  • child care during treatment
  • psychiatric assessment and mental health services
  • help to move into permanent housing

No program has staff with expertise in all of these areas   Also, when there is simply no more room in the facility to take additional clients, it is time to make referrals.   And, even if a program participant is dismissed for using alcohol or drugs or other disciplinary reasons, making an appropriate referral is a great way to minister to them.   Therefore, rescue mission workers need to understand the principles of making good referrals.

A.    Knowing When to Make a Referral — Referrals are most commonly made when a client has a need and there are not resources in-house to handle it.   Therefore is important to develop an inventory of in-house resources and expertise.   Do this by listing the various problems and needs of the people who look to the mission for help.   For each area noted, determine who can best assist clients with that particular need.   Are their staff members or volunteers who have experience or expertise in financial counseling, for instance.

B.  Identifying Referral Resources — People become homeless when they don’t know how to access the resources that are available to them.   So, we need to teach our clients how to access needed resources when they encounter problems in their lives.   If they learn to do this while staying at the mission, they are more likely to access needed resources once they complete the program. A community referral directory or computer database — complete with phone numbers and contact persons — should be available to rescue mission workers who work directly with program participants.   This should include social service agencies, along with churches that are receptive toward mission clients, local professionals, and support groups.  

C.   Working with Other Agencies   – It is always good to list specific individuals at various agencies with whom your ministry has had a favorable contact in the past.   Often, asking for a person at the agency by name can help the staff member making the referral to cut through the “red tape” encountered at some agencies. Other rescue missions are important referral resources that are often underutilized.   This is especially true for new and smaller missions without established residential recovery programs, other member organizations offer specialized help to people struggling with addiction or families in need of long-term assistance.   Using the online directory of missions that are part of   the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions is one way to become familiar with some of the innovative programs offered at member rescue missions. Developing an effective referral directory — and keeping it up-to-date can be time-consuming. Therefore, it should be a responsibility assigned to one staff member who will add new resources and confirm the accuracy of current listings.

D.  Following Up on Referrals — When referrals are made, there should always be a follow-up contact to the agency.   This helps build relationships with referral resources and gives us a direct line on the services that were provided instead of relying on information from the clients themselves.   This also keeps clients from being dishonest or manipulative, playing the referral against the program (an visa versa). For the sake of confidentiality and to comply with privacy laws, clients will usually need to sign “release of information” forms that grants the referral source permission to share information with workers at the rescue mission program.   To make this sort of arrangement work, all parties involved must have an understanding ahead of time.   Tell the individual to whom you are making the referral that you expect the client to grant you this permission.   And, tell the client you will be asking them to give it to the mission staff, as well.

These types of arrangements have be benefit of giving mission workers important information about the services clients receive in order to better assist them.   It also helps to further develop relationships with other agencies and organizations in the community.


Is Relapse a Normal Part of the Recovery Process?

Doesn’t saying “relapse is normal part of the recovery process” give clients the ability to abdicate responsibility for behaviors that lead to using –practically giving them permission to relapse?

People who work in the addiction recovery field pour their lives into troubled people day after day.   Nothing is more discouraging than to see these efforts met with little or no long-term results.   When an individual who is a graduate of a long-term residential program falls back into drugs and alcohol, those who have been helping him or her often take it quite personally.   For these people, it is important to remember that a temporary or occasional “slip” does not mean that all their time and efforts were wasted.

I would almost say that the real test of how successful we are with graduates is not whether or not they use alcohol or drugs again. What happens when they do relapse really shows whether they have, indeed, started on the path to recovery. The main issue is to make sure that they don’t stay stuck in a downward cycle of destruction, but, instead, get back on the road to recovery.

So, how can we help newly recovering people to use failure as a “springboard” to successful recovery?   Here are a few points to keep in mind:

A. Don’t Condone or Project — Prepare! —Without condoning relapse, or even expecting them to fail, every program graduate needs to know that it is not uncommon for newly recovering addicts to relapse.   We need to let them know that we will not be shocked or disappointed by a failure to remain sober.   The doors of the mission are always open to them — whether that means returning to the program, seeing a counselor on an outpatient basis, or being referred to another program for help.   The last thing we want is for them to end up full of shame, think they have let us down and not reach out to us in their time of need.

B. Help Them “Own” Their Own Choices —Failure to stay sober is always a consequence of the individual’s own actions and choices.   He or she must be held accountable.   Returning to alcohol and drugs after a period of sobriety is evidence that there are still significant issues in the realm of denial that need to be addressed. He or she probably needs a lot of help to “connect the dots” in order to make sense of how these decisions and behaviors came together to cause the relapse.   That is the purpose of creating a detailed “relapse map.”

C. Keep Quitting — For most addicts, staying clean and sober is not a “once and for all” proposition.   Few people with long-term sobriety “got it” right the first time they made an initial resolve to forsake alcohol and drugs. I like to use Jerry McAuley, who founded America’s first rescue mission in 1872, as an example of this principle.   We know that Jerry backslid over seventy times before he finally found lasting sobriety. The key to his eventual success — and his tremendous legacy as a servant of God – he “kept quitting.”   The Lord always honors an attitude of humility coupled with godly perseverance.

D. Never Waste a Good Crisis! —This was some of the best advice I have ever received from a fellow counselor.   When are people most likely to change?   It’s in the midst of a crisis when they are bewildered, and full of self-doubt and pain.   It’s basic human nature to keep doing what seems to be working as long as it seems to be working.   So, give the person lots of time to sort through all the feelings associated with the failure.   Then, help him or her to use that pain as a motivation to renew a commitment to sobriety.   If viewed correctly, the crisis of relapse will create a healthy sense of self-doubt that leads the addict to admit in his “heart of hearts” that he is powerless over his “drug of choice.”   This acknowledgement is the where the road to successful recovery begins.



Helping Recovering Addicts Reconnect With the Church

Over twenty years ago, Rev. Maurice Vanderberg, Executive Director of City Union Mission in Kansas City, hung the purpose of their new Christian Life Program on their chapel wall. It is a statement that should de ­scribe the intent of all rescue mission re ­covery programs:

Our goal is to see every man becomes a mature, contributing member of a Christian community.

People become homeless because they are disconnected from meaningful rela ­tionships with others. They don’t know how to access social support systems. And, for most, their trust level is at about zero. As they complete our resi ­dential recovery programs, we must as ­sist them to become “plugged-in” to places where they will experience the support, nurture, and encouragement they need to grow in faith and in sobri ­ety.

Becoming active in a church home is ab ­solutely essential for homeless addicts who want to establish themselves in a new, independent, sober and godly lifestyle. They must develop a personal system of ongoing support that replaces the structure provided by the mission residential program. This might also in ­clude participation in support groups and finding a program sponsor. All of this can only be accomplished if we have a definite “aftercare” strategy in place.

Attending Sunday morning worship at a local church is required by most mission programs. Sadly, their experience of the Church looks something like this:

The mission van pulls up to the church door and the clients file into the building.

They find a safe place to sit, usually in the back of the church.

They stay in their own group and have little contact with other people at the worship service.

After the service ends, they file back into the van after ex ­changing a few words with the greeters at the door.

This is so tragic, because the Body of Christ is the greatest support network there ever was. And, we know that par ­ticipating in a local congregation is es ­sential for Christian growth.

Here are a few suggestions for rescue mission personnel that may be useful in helping program participants to make the sometimes difficult transition into a supportive body of believers:

A. Find “Mission Friendly” Churches

Probably the first place to look for “mis ­sion friendly” churches is the list of those who are already active with your chapel services and other activities. Just as we must visit support groups before sending program participants to them, we also need to personally visit the churches they attend. The reason for this is simple: not all churches can handle people from rescue missions. Some have a theology that is not compatible with our approach to recovery. For others, getting involved with rescue mission cli ­ents might just be too much of a socio ­economic stretch.

B. Connecting with Pastors

Once you have identified those churches, visit with their pastors. Let them know your desire to work with them to help your clients find a spiritu4 home in their churches. The pastor can help you to enlist a few members of his church who could become church spon ­sors for people from the rescue mission.

Whenever possible, invite pastors to the mission so they can tour your facilities and learn about your programs. When I was a mission director, I was active in the local clergy council. A couple of times a year, we hosted their monthly meeting and provided a lunch. It’s al ­ways amazing to see how much more in ­terested people become in our missions when they have had a chance to set foot in our buildings and can see what we are actually doing.

C. Train the Church Sponsors

Once we have identified these “mission friendly” churches, schedule a few orientation sessions for the church sponsors.   This is an opportunity to help them to better understand and reach out to mis ­sion clients we send their way. This could be accomplished in a single meet ­ing where a handbook could be given out with additional information. The goal is to develop a list of willing and equipped church sponsors that mission staff members could match up with mis ­sion program participants as they seek out a church home.

D. Christian Recovery Groups – A Bridge to the Christian Community

Most Christian recovery group meetings have several former addicts who are liv ­ing stable Christian lives. Because of their own experiences, these people can empathize with the struggles of home ­less addicts in a deeper way than most believers. We are sure to find some who will take our clients under their wings, serve as sponsors, invite them to their homes, and bring them to church with them.

If you have already developed a program to help mission program participants become integrated into the local Church, please contact us at the IUGM Education Department. We are gather ­ing materials on this topic that will be available to other member missions.


April 1998