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  • Writer's pictureMarielle Moraleja

What You Need to Know: Community Outreach Assistants

What comes to your mind when you think of the word, “Community Outreach Assistant?” A community worker? A salesperson? Generally, Community Outreach Assistants within harm reduction settings take on an important role in engaging with clients and healthcare services.

What Does Harm Reduction Mean?

It’s first important to define what harm reduction means to fully understand the responsibilities of a Community Outreach Assistant. Harm reduction aims to reduce negative health outcomes without having to permanently stop or negate habitual health behaviours.1,3 Examples of harm reduction practices can be wearing sunscreen, wearing a condom, and wearing a seatbelt. By engaging in harm reduction practices, we effectively decrease morbidity and mortality rates among those who use substances.2–4 If you would like to learn more, a comprehensive explanation of harm reduction is uploaded on our social media!

What Do Community Outreach Assistants Do?

In harm reduction settings, Community Outreach Assistants are responsible for engaging with those who use substances.1,2,4 They may or may not have a shared experience similar to the clients they work with.1,2,4 Community Outreach Assistants with a shared lived experience can understand the social, psychological, and physiological behaviours of their clients, which helps them better understand the needs of their clients and help them navigate through health or social barriers such as access to healthcare services, social stigma, and criminalization.1,2,4

Community Outreach Assistants who do not have a shared lived experience but who have strong communication skills and are able to connect with a wide range of community members from diverse backgrounds are often the ‘middleman’ that bridges the gap between the client and service provider or researcher.1,2,4

By frequently interacting with their clients, Community Outreach Assistants are better equipped with what services and health efforts can be improved or provided by utilizing a bottom-up approach.1,2,4 As a result, Community Outreach Assistants are multi-dimensional, working or advocating across different sectors. For instance, Community Outreach Assistants can influence or provide:

  • institutional work such as local policy development,

  • distribution and supply of harm reduction items (i.e., condoms, needles),

  • harm reduction education and messaging,

  • advocacy and outreach,

  • and community-based research.1–4

Distinguishing the Role of Community Outreach Assistants

How does being a Community Outreach Assistant differ from other roles that are important to harm reduction, such as a social worker, outreach worker, physician, or psychologist/psychiatrist? It’s different because Community Outreach Assistants do not have to be accredited or have a professional background to engage in their responsibilities (though some may need a certificate or training in research or community development).1,5 Most importantly, their role as a Community Outreach Assistant does not aim to reinforce or produce an unequal power imbalance (think about the relationship dynamic between a patient and a health provider). The interactions between a Community Outreach Assistant and a client are completely dependent on communication and trust.1,4,5

Does being a Community Outreach Assistant interest you? Did you know that we’re currently hiring Community Outreach Assistants in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Sault Ste Marie? Check out our website for more information!


1. Greer AM, Luchenski SA, Amlani AA, Lacroix K, Burmeister C, Buxton JA. Community Outreach Assistant engagement in harm reduction strategies and services: a critical case study and evaluation framework from British Columbia, Canada. BMC Public Health. 2016;16(452). doi:10.1186/s12889-016-3136-4

2. Chang J, Shelly S, Busz M, Stoicescu C, Iryawan AR, Madybaeva D. Community Outreach Assistant driven or driven Community Outreach Assistants? A rapid review of Community Outreach Assistant involvement of people who use drugs in HIV and harm reduction services in low- and middle-income countries. Harm Reduct J. 2021;18(14). doi:10.1186/s12954-021-00461-z

3. BC Centre for Disease Control. Harm reduction services [Internet]. BC Centre for Disease Control; n.d. Available from:

4. Mercer F, Miler JA, Pauly B, Carver H, Hnízdilová K, Foster R, et al. Community Outreach Assistant Support and Overdose Prevention Responses: A Systematic ‘State-of-the-Art’ Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(22). doi:10.3390/ijerph182212073

5. Ibáñez-Carrasco F, Watson JR, Tavares J. Supporting Community Outreach Assistant researchers: recommendations from our lived experience/expertise in community-based research in Canada. Harm Reduct J. 2019;16(55). doi:10.1186/s12954-019-0322-6


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