Field Notes: Preparing for the HEARTH Act – Whatcom County, WA – Part I

written by Anna Blasco
February 29, 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Greg Winter of Whatcom County, Washington about how his community is preparing for the HEARTH Act. Because I discussed using an existing 211 service to start a coordinated entry system in your community last week, I wanted to contrast Whatcom’s coordinated entry process.

Whatcom has been developing a coordinated entry system since 2008, when they formed the Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council, the local community action agency. There, they established a coordinated entry system with five service providers in the county. The community was familiar with going to the Opportunity Council’s resource center for help, so running the coordinated entry system out of this single, physical location was a good fit for Whatcom. Additionally, other people in the community are trained to complete the intake process, including a street outreach team run by a local volunteer organization, social workers based in a local hospital, and some staff in the local jail.

In 2011 the Alliance held a  Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) with Whatcom, which encouraged them to further develop their coordinated entry system.  Data sharing agreements were signed with providers to allow better coordination between agencies. They adopted a philosophy of services based on vulnerability, rather than first-come first-served. Some organizations that participate in the coordinated entry system no longer run their own waiting lists. Instead, the Homeless Service Center keeps one central “housing interest pool.” Providers have found that this lessens their administrative burden, and helps them concentrate on their housing focused services. Finally, Whatcom adopted Hennepin County, Minnesota’s prevention targeting tool (more on this next week).

The next step for Whatcom is to continue adding service providers in a gradual and deliberate way to their coordinated entry system, and to continue evaluating and improving their system.

Stephanie Reinauer from the Whatcom Homeless Service Center, recently gave a presentation at our February conference on becoming a coordinated homelessness assistance system. Find the slides from her presentation on our website. For more information on Coordinated Entry, read our brief “One Way In: The Advantages of Introducing System- Wide Coordinated Entry for Homeless Families.”

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons