Field Notes: The Secrets of Success in Coordinated Assessment

written by Kim Walker
June 20, 2012

I’m back to talk again about one of my favorite topics, coordinated assessment. But today I wanted to share something beyond information about how to do it, who’s currently doing it well, and how to structure it, though if you want that information our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit is always available (and expanding!)!

My secret to share today is this: A great front door is nothing without a great back door.

Imagine that a new and great restaurant opens in town. Tons of people flood to get reservations, and the restaurant does a great job of managing them – no one who calls needs to be put on hold and everyone gets the reservation they want. However, once you arrive for your slot, the kitchen isn’t properly stocked and only has one or two things on the menu. After waiting hours for the kitchen to get restocked, you give up and go home hungry.

For coordinated assessment to really work in its intended manner, the focus has to be not just on getting people to the programs that fit their unique needs and housing barriers best, but matching people with programs that will help them quickly re-enter permanent housing. Having a great system that can accept lots of people but offers no connections to permanent housing is a lot like sending people home hungry in the example above: they weren’t served properly and they didn’t get what they came for. The reasons people become homeless are varied, but the reasons they remain homeless are all the same – they lack permanent housing.

To prevent this from happening within homeless assistance systems, some individual programs are going to have to make some changes for the greater good of the people they serve beyond committing to allowing the assessment centers to make referral and admissions decisions. Programs will have to take a hard look at how they run, asking themselves questions like these:

  •     Are we focused on the housing needs of our clients above all else?
  •     Do we know how to provide support services in a way that addresses our clients’ barriers to obtaining and maintaining housing?
  •     Do we have connections to the resources needed to help clients get into housing (subsidies, landlords, etc.)?
  •     Do we know how to connect households with more intensive needs to permanent supportive housing?

Providers must focus on addressing the barriers preventing a household from re-entering permanent housing and helping clients build the strengths that will allow them to maintain it. Above all, all of us – providers and everyone else involved with homeless assistance –  must remember that our primary role is to help the households we serve get back into permanent housing as quickly as possible.

Programs – and systems –  that focus on helping clients move into permanent housing and supporting them in that housing they’ll get the outcomes that are best for everyone.  For some systems, that’s s a new focus, and a lot to handle, and it’ll take some time to get all the “kitchens” in a homeless assistance system in order. But the information we have shows us that a strong and effective front door paired with best practices like targeted prevention, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing will help us end homelessness, which will be a great feat. And luckily, we also know that providers and homeless assistance systems everywhere are capable of great things.

Image courtesy of Fey Ilyas.