Lessons Learned from Developing Coordinated Entry Systems: Richmond and Los Angeles

National Perspective - Matthew Doherty

All across the country, communities are developing coordinated entry systems to streamline and facilitate access to appropriate housing and services for families and individuals experiencing homelessness.  In the Greater Richmond area of Virginia and in Los Angeles County, California—like in other places—efforts to bring these systems online are in full swing. In both communities, they have had to navigate some big challenges and problem-solve some tough issues, but coordinated entry is already having a real and measurable impact on their efforts to end homelessness. As communities move further forward in the development of their own coordinated entry systems, tailored to their local contexts, sharing best practices and lessons learned across the country is becoming even more essential. We hope the lessons learned in these two communities can help others make better progress. USICH is eager to learn from every community and to help communities learn from one another.

First, it’s important to understand what coordinated entry is and how it works. Coordinated entry is an important process through which people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness can access the crisis response system in a streamlined way, have their strengths and needs quickly assessed, and be quickly connected to appropriate, tailored housing and mainstream services within the community. Standardized assessment tools and practices used within local coordinated assessment processes must take into account the unique needs of single adults, families with children, and unaccompanied youth. The assessment process should help guide decisions about the best options to address the needs of each household, while providing meaningful choice to participants, rather than determining eligibility for or entry into a single program within the system. These assessment processes can help ensure that the most intensive interventions are targeted to  those with the most significant needs. Effective coordinated entry systems must seek to ensure that the community’s programs and agencies have the training and capacity to provide trauma-informed services, and successful systems also offer safety planning, advocacy, and access to specialized services that address the safety concerns of individuals, and parents with children, fleeing domestic violence.

Now, let’s hear from two communities—Richmond and Los Angeles County—who presented at the December 2014 full Council meeting regarding their local efforts to implement coordinated assessment, their successes, their lessons learned, and the challenges that they continue to tackle.

Greater Richmond - Kelly King Horne

Homeward serves as the “backbone” organization for the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care (GRCoC), which covers the City of Richmond, VA and a seven county area, and is the lead for GRCoC’s coordinated entry system. Homeward combines annual Federal, State and local funding including HUD, state planning dollars, local government non-departmental funding, United Way funding, and other philanthropic dollars. In part due to data and planning functions, many corporations have provided funding for Homeward. GRCoC’s focus on coordinated entry emerged as a result of its efforts to create better solutions for families in shelter through rapid re-housing dating back to 2007. The expansion of rapid re-housing through the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program further accentuated the need for greater coordination across homeless services, for a way to differentiate which households need which types of programs and to prioritize households for assistance. Despite the CoC’s recognition of the need for a coordinated entry system, previous efforts to design and implement this system had been unsuccessful.

But a new statewide effort to end Veteran homelessness launched in September 2014 has given new life to the creation of a coordinated entry system, as an essential part of a larger strategy for ending Veteran homelessness. In 2014, the State developed its Plan to End Veteran Homelessness led by the Virginia Department of Veteran Services and held a statewide Rapid Results Boot Camp, which has led to efforts to implement a coordinated system for Veterans to access HUD-VASH, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) assistance, and other resources. GRCoC is working in partnership with the local VA Medical Center to implement a coordinated entry system that will:

  • Provide greater outreach to identify Veterans experiencing homelessness;
  • Create multiple points of entry into the system;
  • Implement standardized assessments that can be performed in the field by trained staff; and
  • Coordinate the alignment of housing and services interventions based upon those other assessments and factors.

The coordinated entry system is also working to make stronger connections with mainstream resources. While initially focused on resources that are specifically targeted to Veterans, Homeward and GRCoC see potential to help achieve greater integration with mainstream systems and resources. One early success has been the commitment by the local public housing authority of mainstream Housing Choice Vouchers for Veterans who no longer need the intensity of services provided under the HUD-VASH program, but who need ongoing rental assistance.

GRCoC and VA have found that their collaborative efforts to develop a coordinated entry system for Veterans has yielded significant progress already in reducing Veteran homelessness, and that creating this system is helping to strengthen local strategies to be more focused on housing outcomes. And although this effort is initially focused on Veterans, the community sees this as an opportunity to test approaches and build momentum toward the development of a more comprehensive system that will eventually serve all populations experiencing homelessness in the area.

Los Angeles County -Libby Boyce

Significant efforts are underway in Los Angeles County to develop coordinated entry system for single adults, including Veterans and people experiencing chronic homelessness, and are making terrific progress.  My piece of the puzzle for ending homelessness in LA has been facilitating the development of a coordinated entry system for families.  Historically, there was a dearth of family-centered homeless services in Los Angeles County; families experiencing homelessness were typically directed to the adult shelter system. As a result, families often came to in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles to receive assistance due to the concentration of resources—a cause of concern for elected officials and housing and service providers. In 2009, the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) helped demonstrate the effectiveness of rapid re-housing strategies, but also helped make clear the need for an infrastructure throughout the County to serve families and to divert them from seeking services in Skid Row.

Efforts to create this infrastructure began in 2010 with the Family Transitions Project pilot, shifting shelter resources to family services agencies. This work advanced further in 2012 and 2013 with the creation of six Family Solution Centers that weaved together both HUD Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and County Homelessness Prevention Initiative funding. In June 2014, one system of care focused on crisis and permanent housing for families experiencing homelessness was designed, incorporating the Family Solution Centers and two existing TANF programs.

The result of these efforts was the Homeless Families Solutions System (HFSS), which was launched on July 1, 2014, and now features eight regionally-based Family Solutions Centers throughout the County. HFSS is a regional approach to addressing family homelessness by permanently re-housing families quickly and efficiently while connecting families to supportive services within their own communities across Los Angeles County. Developed in response to the local acknowledgement of the need for ongoing resources and coordination of efforts to end homelessness among families, HFSS represents a coordinated response among multiple departments of the County and City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and many non-profit partners.

HFSS has established a coordinated system through which, via multiple points of entry, families are screened for diversion or crisis housing and services, and subsequently assessed using a common assessment tool to develop a permanent housing plan. The assessment focuses on identifying the funding sources for which each family is eligible and reducing barriers to housing stability. The permanent housing plan is developed based upon the family’s needs, including the length of rental subsidy, type and duration of supportive services, and/or whether the family should be prioritized for Permanent Supportive Housing. Plans are flexible to ensure that families do not fall through the cracks if they do not achieve immediate housing stability.

HFSS now combines over $11 million in annual Federal, State, and local funding into one coordinated, community-based, crisis response system for families experiencing homelessness. As of July 1, 2014, the funding combines HUD ESG, TANF, CDBG, County Homelessness Prevention Initiative, and City general funds. To date, HFSS has served 1,545 households, including 238 households headed by a transition age youth. Two hundred and thirty-three families were diverted from the homelessness services system. Two hundred and ninety-five of the 1,545 households served have obtained permanent housing, while 570 households have been placed in crisis housing as they finalize permanent housing plans.

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Matthew Doherty serves as the Director of National Initiatives at USICH, a principal representative and bridge between the work of the full Council and states and communities. In this role, Matthew leads USICH’s partnerships with other federal agencies for the implementation of national initiatives and guides the work of USICH’s Regional Coordinators who convene stakeholders at every level of government and with the private sector, encouraging implementation of strategies that maximize the impact of federal resources and supporting strategic planning efforts.

Kelly King Horne has served as Homeward’s Executive Director since 2007. She worked in various collaborative roles with Homeward and the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg from 2003 to 2007. Kelly serves on the Governor’s Coordinating Council for Homelessness and the Affordability Workgroup of the Virginia Housing Commission.

Libby Boyce is the Director of Access and Engagement for Housing for Health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, but previously served as the Homeless Services Coordinator for the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office.  In that role, Libby advised the Board of Supervisors on all homeless related policy, planning and programmatic issues that impact the County.  She facilitated several County interdepartmental efforts to develop and implement more permanent housing and corresponding supportive services.  Libby led processes that have resulted in collaborative and coordinated models of care for homeless families, single adults and youth.