A Closer Look: Opening Doors, As Amended in 2015 - Spotlight on Crisis Response Systems

To accompany the release of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015, we will be taking a closer look at each of the four key updates to the document this week. We’ll be sharing comments from partners, community members, and the USICH staff on how the updates are impacting their daily work, helping to prevent and end homelessness across America, as well as highlight the key changes around the updated topic.

Spotlight on Crisis Response Systems

“Over the last few years, we’ve learned a great deal about how to transform the way we respond to homelessness, moving from a set of uncoordinated programs towards systems that help families and individuals rapidly reconnect to permanent housing.  This updated version of Opening Doors captures those lessons and outlines the critical steps communities can take to retool homeless services into effective crisis response systems.”  
– Nan Roman, Executive Director, National Alliance to End Homelessness

Since the launch of Opening Doors five years ago, communities across the country are transforming their responses to homelessness from what was once a set of uncoordinated programs and services to crisis response systems that help people rapidly resolve their homelessness through connections to stable housing. In order to further guide communities through this transition, the 2015 amendment to Opening Doors includes clearer guidance around how to retool homeless services into a coordinated crisis response system.

This crisis response system involves the re-orientation of programs and services to a Housing First approach that emphasizes rapid connection to permanent housing, while mitigating the negative and traumatic effects of homelessness. An effective crisis response system:

  • Identifies people experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness
  • Prevents homelessness whenever possible
  • Provides immediate access to shelter and crisis services without barriers to entry, as stable housing and supports are being secured
  • Quickly connects people who experience homelessness to housing assistance and/ or services tailored to the unique strengths and needs of households and which enable them to achieve and maintain permanent housing

Written as Objective 10 of the Plan, this new version includes updated logic to clarify our vision for a retooled homeless crisis response system. The strategies have also been rewritten to better reflect current action taking place on the Federal level.

View the updated strategies and guidance in Objective 10 on page 55 of Opening Doors.

View the section-by-section Summary of Changes

Carrying out the theme of gathering from the collective wisdom and lessons learned of practitioners, policymakers, and people with lived experience from across the country to shape the development of Opening Doors, we reached out to our followers on social media to hear how the updates impact their work in communities across the country. Here’s a tweet on how a community is working to transform homeless services to crisis response.

Having spent years working to achieve the goals of Opening Doors, and countless hours working on the 2015 Amendment, we asked the staff of USICH to share their thoughts on what the Plan and its recent updates mean to them:

On the back page of the plan you can see names of people who contributed to Opening Doors – the letters that make up the names are teeny tiny because there were so many people involved!  This plan represents the collective action and wisdom of untold numbers of people, organizations, systems, and commitments that focus on real solutions. I can’t think of many other examples where Federal, state, and local public and private partners are driving success like we–all of us implementing the plan—are.  When I first read Opening Doors I quite literally felt a jolt of energy fly through my body because I knew we were going to realize the end of homelessness through it. 

The amendment is the living example of how we take what works, innovate, reflect, and incorporate the data to drive forward.  I am most excited about the amendment’s coverage of the systems approach to solving for homelessness because we’ve proven through Opening Doors that by all of us going “all in” we can move mountains.  – Amy Sawyer, Regional Coordinator


To me, the mere existence of a Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness is proof that the Administration truly believes that homelessness is a problem that can not only be managed – but can be solved once and for all. This shift in thinking from simply “managing” homelessness to actually ending it, is fundamental to the work we do every day. The fact that most of the key themes and objectives of Opening Doors have changed very little since the plan was first unveiled in 2010 shows that the strategies we are implementing are working, and that Opening Doors is still the right plan to move us towards an end to homelessness. At the same time, the Amendment process demonstrates that we are constantly striving to ensure we are using the latest best practices, and are willing to make adjustments as necessary. If we want to end homelessness, we must take an evidence-based approach, and be willing to let go of those strategies that are not working. I feel extremely honored and proud to work for the Agency that is charged with implementing Opening Doors and working across all levels of government and with communities to ensure that every American has a safe, stable place to call home.  
– Katie Jennings, Program Assistant