Field Notes: The New Comprehensive Assessment Tool

written by Kim Walker
May 19, 2014

Coordinated assessment is hard work. Why is it hard? Because at least two types of change must occur for it to be successful: process-level change that can be quite technical, and change at the system level that requires getting people to agree to the same vision.

The process changes include: selecting a coordinated assessment center, training staff, developing an assessment tool, creating a standardized referral procedure, integrating it all with your HMIS… The list goes on and on. On the system side, developing a coordinated assessment process often forces changes in the system vision that requires eliminating eligibility requirements, prioritizing people for services in new and different ways, and standardizing the process of deciding who is served best by which service.

We have developed a new tool, the “Comprehensive Assessment Tool,” which we hope will help communities navigate both technical and systems-level change. This tool is a modified version of the Prince George’s Assessment Tool we discussed in our assessment tools webinar from last year. The tool, which is now available on our website, has several parts:

Pre-screening questions to determine if the household will be best served through coordinated assessment or should be referred to other resources. For this particular tool, consumers who don’t believe they will become homeless within the next 72 hours will be referred to prevention services. Communities can adjust this timeframe as needed or, if prevention services are well integrated with their coordinated assessment process, remove this question.

Questions that cover many of the HUD-required universal data elements and program data elements, which communities should also adjust according to their preferences. However, it’s important that communities share this information with the program receiving the consumer referral so that the program doesn’t ask the consumer the same questions again. Ideally, this sharing should happen through HMIS.

Prevention and diversion questions to determine if the household can be successfully diverted from entering the homeless assistance system. Integrating diversion questions with the assessment tool ensures that shelter beds are prioritized for people who have no other housing options, an important systems change that communities should be adopting. Assessors will likely need to go a bit off script here to determine the best means for diverting each household. Communities should provide training that includes conflict mediation to the assessment staff who provide diversion assistance.

The Housing Prioritization Tool, which identifies housing barriers and prioritizes the people who are usually deemed the hardest to serve for system services. It helps determine what interventions would best serve each household and how high a priority they are for various services. The focus within the tool on identifying housing barriers encourages a Housing First and rapid re-housing centered approach to providing homeless assistance.

Population-specific questions that identify consumers who need specialized services (other than veterans and domestic violence survivors, who are covered earlier on in the process). This section helps identify clients who would benefit most from services provided by just a handful of specialized programs.

A referral discussion section that incorporates consumer choice into the process. Communities will prioritize some consumers for multiple interventions as a result of the Housing Prioritization Tool. This part of the tool gives consumers an opportunity to decide what intervention they’d most like to participate in.

A modified version of 100K Homes’ Vulnerability Index (VI) and VI Scoring for consumers prioritized for permanent supportive housing. This tool will help determine how high a priority a consumer should be for receiving this service. Communities can substitute in other Permanent Supportive Housing prioritization tools besides the Vulnerability Index.

Another key of the assessment process is the dynamic waiting list process. The length of the waiting list for each intervention (transitional housing, rapid re-housing, or permanent supportive housing) will determine how many more people can be added. For example, if the list for permanent supportive housing is long, communities would add only the highest priority households to the list. If the list is short, communities would add lower priority households. This process ensures that waiting lists stay short, so that households who most need assistance can get it quickly, and there are not households waiting in shelters for long periods of time until their names come up.

Hopefully this tool proves helpful to those communities looking for assistance with developing their coordinated assessment process. We encourage you to modify certain parts of the tool to reflect your community’s needs. If you have any questions about the tool, feel free to email them to