Ask NCFY: 'What Is Coordinated Assessment?'

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Image of a street sign indicating different directions.

Q: I work at an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth. My co-workers and I have heard that our community is putting in place “coordinated assessment” for all the homeless people in our area. Can you explain what that is? And how will it affect youth who come to our program for help?

A: We’re sure you know from experience that homeless youth and families often have trouble “navigating the system” and finding the help they need. Coordinated assessment aims to fix that problem. It streamlines the way a single community—say, a city or a county—assists people who are homeless or may soon become homeless.

Kim Walker of the National Alliance to End Homelessness says coordinated assessment works like this (most of the time): Everyone who needs help goes to just one agency or hotline. That place is called the “entry point.” Staff at the entry point ask the homeless or soon-to-be-homeless person a series of standard questions about their situation. Then staff determine what kind of help the person needs, and send them to the right place.

Some communities have multiple entry points, Walker says, all of which follow the same procedures to get people help. In some communities, staff at an entry point can admit people to an emergency shelter, which reduces the time it takes to get a roof over their heads.

“It’s really cutting down on the number of places someone needs to go before they can get to that next step,” Walker says.

Just as important, she says, many times people can be kept from entering an emergency shelter in the first place. In addition, service providers in a coordinated system share information about their clients. Data sharing means program staff spend less time plugging information into a computer, and it reduces the likelihood that people seeking help will have to answer the same questions over and over at different agencies.

There’s a lot of interest in the coordinated approach these days. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that recipients of its Emergency Solutions Grant and its Continuum of Care grants will have to have a coordinated assessment system. And the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness sees coordinated assessment as a tool in its efforts to end homelessness.

It’s safe to say that youth in your community are likely to get the right kind of help more quickly once coordinated assessment is in place. And you’ll likely find yourself having to turn away fewer young people because the young people who would be better helped by someone else get led to the right door.

Want to learn how to set up coordinated assessment in your area?

Read Kim Walker’s blog post featuring a coordinated assessment success story.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness offers a coordinated assessment toolkit.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Housing and Urban Development held a webinar on coordinated assessment.

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