Is Coordinated Entry To Homelessness Services Possible?

an abstract image of people standing in a queue is superimposed with a ascending number order 1,2,3,4,5 etc.

Mary Kate Bacalao is the Director of External Affairs and Policy at Compass Family Services, an agency that supports families experiencing homelessness. In Shelterforce, she speaks about difficulties in the U.S. with “coordinated entry”. Because it is the access point to homelessness services, it’s important to understand what coordinated entry is and how it’s working.

What is coordinated entry?

Coordinated entry (or “coordinated access” as it is called in Canada) creates a virtual “queue” to access homelessness services. The order of the queue is based on individual or family need, which is established using a common assessment tool. Everyone who is seeking service is required to complete the assessment. The outcome of the assessment is a number, which generates a ranking (or place in the virtual queue) among everyone who has completed the assessment. It also determines the services, if any, that will be provided.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made coordinated entry a mandatory element of the homelessness services it funded, starting about 10 years ago. In 2017, the Canadian government signaled its support for coordinated entry in the National Homelessness Strategy.

How is it working out?

Coordinated entry means that the people who receive the highest scores get help before others. This seems reasonable in principle, but as Bacalao and others point out, there are difficulties.

The whole idea of getting a number can deter people from applying. We might think that a number suggests objectivity, but in the experience of Indigenous people in Canada, numbers are emotionally loaded. Every indigenous student enrolling in a residential school (which they were required to attend) was given a number. While in school they experienced beatings, sexual assaults and other abuses at the hands of their teachers. Former students as well as their children and grandchildren, share a wariness of numbers, to the point that they do not seek services at all. Try: Ranking By Numbers Gets In The Way Of Homelessness Services

It also turns out that there are biases in the coordinated entry assessment tool that is widely used to set the score. As a consequence White people get a higher score than Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour.

On the ground, this can mean that White people receive assistance before Black people who have been homeless for longer. It can also mean that White men receive assistance before Black women, who, while homeless, are at much greater risk for physical or sexual assault. Try: Line Up Here – Giving Preference To Access Supportive Housing

Bacalao also notes that the thresholds on the list are not fixed. This means that a score of 100 makes you eligible for services one day, but not the next. This aspect of list management means that the program can appear to be successful, when in fact fewer and fewer people are being served.

You can read more about the difficulties of coordinated entry, as well as ways to make it work better, at Shelterforce: The Hunger Games of Homeless Services

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