Communities Come Together to Discuss Coordinated Entry

“If we didn’t jump in with both feet, we might have been planning forever and never seen the progress we’re now seeing!” said Maria Barcus, retiring CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.

Maria speaks of the sense of adventure and the leap of faith that communities take when making the commitment to implement a coordinated entry system. Coordinates entry systems are designed to meet people who are experiencing or at-risk of homelessness where they are and to connect them quickly to the right type of housing assistance and services based on their unique needs. 

Last month, I joined Maria and about 30 practitioners, policymakers and community stakeholders to discuss coordinated entry in Tampa.

Nationally, the effort to create and support coordinated entry systems is now underway, and many communities are in the process of putting all of the pieces together so that homelessness is truly a very rare and brief experience.

Through the 25 Cities initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, communities have been invited to convene local leaders eager to build on their successes, identify new strategies, act decisively to strengthen their coordinated response systems and, in the process, end Veteran homelessness.  To get started, teams of dedicated individuals are meeting for two-day-long intensive work sessions that drive a sophisticated planning process, resulting in specific action steps that will be carried out in months – not years.

Resilient, smart, and dedicated people in the homeless service systems showed me that nothing is out of our reach. Law enforcement officers, executive directors, HMIS coordinators, 211 operators, funders, Veterans, city and county officials, and others are showing up and asking: “How can the program and resources I work with integrate with other existing programs and resources to help the system as a whole connect as many people as possible to housing, as quickly as possible?”

What makes these work sessions unique is the palpable feeling that we are at a precipice – that as a nation, we can see the finish line. There is mounting evidence that we can end homelessness, but only with a deep sense of urgency and laser focus on what needs to be done to make sure every opportunity is aligned with the coordinated homeless and housing systems in communities across our country.

As a regional coordinator at USICH, I cover the mid-Atlantic and southeast portion of the United States, partnering with communities to execute on the objectives and goals of Opening Doors and to bridge gaps in knowledge and resources. I jumped at the chance to participate in several of these work sessions across the region, and I am truly invigorated by the sheer power that communities hold when it comes to ending homelessness. 

Teams engaged in the 25 Cities initiative endeavor to create a dynamic process that will yield direct results. By using existing data to build a clear picture of the capacity and outcomes of the current system, they analyze gaps in infrastructure and services and set bold goals that focus on stable housing outcomes for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. In addition, they garner specific commitments and partnerships within the homeless system and with mainstream services and systems to orient resources toward achieving those goals.

As community teams move forward, they will further increase their understanding of what is needed to truly end homelessness and to ensure that resources are used wisely and that partnerships are leveraged to quickly and efficiently identify options for filling gaps in services and resources.

As my colleague Eric Grumdahl explained in a recent speech to community stakeholders, “Coordinated assessment [and housing placement] is a process, not a tool. The process serves the community's efforts to end homelessness by bringing into the open, in a more explicit way, how resources are deployed—and should be deployed—to serve the members of your community experiencing homelessness. Tools are an important part of systems, but the tool alone is not sufficient.”

Eric goes on to explain that systems need to be people-centric, putting individuals and families at the center of the action, and building relationships with people across the system so that programs and agencies can keep a focus on housing first and leverage outreach, assessment, services and housing.

The communities I have had the pleasure to visit during this process represent only a handful of the communities and collectives across the country that are part of the very real surge toward ending Veteran homelessness. The momentum we are building is awe inspiring.

Most exciting is the fact that (despite the increasing pressures of meeting the goals and the very real and challenging work of bringing a broad range of partners together) people are not backing down. People are holding themselves and their communities accountable to do what is needed to end homelessness. 

Because each community is different, the way that coordinated systems are developed will naturally look a little different in each community. I look forward to seeing what we can learn from the leaders in the 25 Cities effort and in addition, from communities engaged in similar work throughout the country. 

In Tampa, the team is focused on creating a coordinated entry system and has already begun to implement new strategies to effectively assess people experiencing homelessness and quickly connect them to services and supports tailored to their specific needs.

We want to hear from you.  What efforts are taking place in your community to implement a coordinated entry systems?