Field Notes: Coordinated Intake

written by Kim Walker
March 22, 2011

Our own Center for Capacity Building is the on-the-ground arm of the Alliance. They travel from place to place helping communities craft strategies and implement practices to help turn their best intentions into real results. Starting today, the Center will share their notes from the field, offering thoughts on the best methods, tools, and ideas they’re using to end homelessness one place at a time. Stay tuned!

One of the strategies that we’re paying a lot of attention to these days is coordinated or centralized intake. It seems that a lot of the communities that have successfully reduced homelessness, especially among families, have started by reforming their intake systems. The key it seems is not the centralization, but better coordination of resources. That’s one of the reasons we like to describe it as coordinated intake rather than centralized intake.

In a community without a coordinated intake process, a person who needs assistance goes to various programs seeking help, and each program makes a determination about what kinds of assistance the person is eligible for. Most types of assistance are scarce, and so there’s some method for prioritizing, usually first come, first served. Let’s look at an example of permanent supportive housing. A homeless person residing in a shelter might get a list of programs that they are eligible for, including a permanent supportive housing program. The person will apply, and typically be placed on a waiting list. When the person’s name comes up, they move into the supportive housing program. It’s a simple process, but it creates some problems.

First of all, because everybody who is eligible is placed on a waiting list, the waiting lists are very long, which results in people needing those programs the most waiting a very long time. Second, there’s no need-based prioritization, so when a person’s name comes up for a program, there’s no process to ensure that the program is the best fit for the person or that the person needs the program more than other people on the waiting list. Lastly, it’s not an easy system for people to navigate.

A centralized and coordinated intake process can solve a lot of these problems. It simplifies the process for homeless and at-risk people by providing a clear path for accessing assistance. Using an assessment tool as part of the intake process can help people quickly identify the best programs for exiting homelessness quickly. Because people are only signed up for the programs that are best fits for their circumstances, it reduces waiting lists.

Over the next few months, we’ll be rolling out a toolkit on Coordinated Entry that describes how to implement coordinated entry, including an assessment and targeting process. For more information you can email us at