Coordinated Entry Models

Published: December 24, 2012

NOTE: This toolkit was published by Building Changes in 2013 to help counties meet a 2014 state mandate that all counties have a coordinated entry system for clients entering the homeless system. It has not been updated since then and does not necessarily reflect current or best practice.


A coordinated entry system can be designed using an intake structure that is centralized, decentralized, or perhaps a combination of both. An intake-model design is selected based on a county’s unique characteristics and the population(s) it seeks to serve through coordinated entry.

Counties with a significant rural or frontier population have unique needs that should be considered when choosing a coordinated entry model. What follows is an overview of each coordinated entry model, including considerations for rural communities as well as examples from Washington state.

Centralized Intake

The centralized intake model uses one entry location where people at risk for or experiencing homelessness are assessed to determine the best resources for their specific needs. This entry location can be virtual (telephone or Web) or a physical location. The location may serve all populations or there may be separate locations for each population.


  • Centralized phone hotline or Web-based service (e.g.. 2-1-1 or community internet access)
  • Single physical point of assessment (i.e., emergency shelter, dedicated assessment center)


  • Opportunity to build on system or structure already in place, such as 2-1-1 or an emergency shelter
  • Greater likelihood for consistency with only one agency administering assessment tool and making referrals to other agencies as needed
  • Less space and fewer staff required
  • Less training time with fewer staff receiving calls and administering assessment tool
  • One location to refer service seekers
  • Agencies no longer need to spend time assessing individuals for program entry


  • High volume of calls and assessments for lead agency staff
  • One physical location may not be easily accessible for all clients if county covers a wide geographic area or has a significant rural population
  • A virtual location may not be accessible for everyone due to lack of telephone or Internet access
  • Partner agencies need to release control of their entry and assessment procedures

Key considerations

  • Agency conducting assessments and referrals needs to build and maintain a high level of trust among the provider community.
  • Clients with transportation or rural-location challenges need to be ensured equal access to system through alternatives such as Skype assessments, transportation assistance, mobile assessors, or agencies staying open after regular business hours.
  • Interpretive services for non-English-speaking clients can be costly. It is important to address the need for interpretative services for multiple languages.

Decentralized Intake

A decentralized model uses multiple coordinated locations (physical, virtual, or both) throughout the community that offer assessments and referrals. Sites can be operated by one agency or by different agencies. All sites are coordinated because they use the same assessment form, targeting tools, and referral process. Each site has equal access to the same set of resources.


  • Phone intake for initial screening, and office location for assessment and referrals along with:
    • Regional locations and with multiple phone numbers
  • One agency does all assessments at different locations throughout county
  • Different agencies throughout county use same assessment tools


  • Capacity to handle large number of clients
  • Greater accessibility for counties that cover a large geographic or rural area
  • Providers may feel more comfortable with this model
  • Homeless clients are familiar with agencies providing services


  • Requires more coordination and oversight by lead implementing agency to ensure consistency
  • May be more expensive due to increased rent for space/staff demands
  • Rural areas may not have office space or an appropriate business/provider to host satellite assessment sites

Key considerations

  • Extensive public outreach to communicate different locations with identical services at all locations.
  • Should face-to-face screening be included as well as call-in screening? How will face-to-face screening impact staff time?
  • Rural locations may not have access to referral services (e.g., housing or support services) even if there is a rural location site available for initial entry and assessment.
  • Interpretive services for non-English-speaking clients can be costly. It is important to address the need for interpretative services for multiple languages.

Washington State Coordinated Entry Examples

Centralized Intake Model County
Centralized phone hotline and/or physical location for screening; referrals to housing agencies Clark, Spokane, Whatcom
Single physical point of assessment
Decentralized Intake Model County
Centralized telephone and/or lead agency(s) with various office locations for assessments and referrals to housing providers King*, Pierce, Snohomish**
Regional locations
Different phone numbers
Lead agency for intake and referral to various partner housing providers; partner agencies use the same assessment tool Kitsap***, Clallam

*King County uses a hybrid of centralized and decentralized by using 2-1-1 as the first point of entry to screen calls from homeless households and then refers homeless families to a lead agency for further assessments and referrals.

**Snohomish County plans to perform street outreach to the homeless population.

***Kitsap County has one agency that subcontracts with another agency to allow for co-location and to provide coordinated entry services; to address the rural areas, two partner agencies serve as entry points and referrals are made to different county agencies that use the same assessment tools.

For more detailed information on the models used in Washington state see Implementation.

Coordinated Entry for Rural Communities

The experience of homelessness for urban and rural residents is similar in many ways. But there are some important differences that should be considered when designing a coordinated entry system to respond to rural residents.

Rural population distinctions

  • Between 1.2 and 2.3 times more likely to be poor than urban dwellers
  • One in five rural counties has a poverty rate of 20 percent or more
  • Population spread out over large geographic area
  • Disproportionate number of American Indians living in substandard/overcrowded/doubled-up conditions
  • Rural homeless/at-risk population also consists of displaced farmers and farm workers, older veterans in poor health, and working poor

Factors influencing coordinated entry design for rural homeless

  • Rural homelessness is less conspicuous than urban
  • Fewer affordable housing units than urban areas; even fewer rental homes available for occupancy
  • Few social service providers to address and measure problem
  • Limited access to medical and mental health services
  • Rural housing rentals are twice as likely to be substandard
  • Technology not as available or reliable, e.g., cell phone and Internet access
  • Transportation issues: lack of public transportation; cost of gas hampers use of personal transportation
  • Limited access to education and job training
  • Lack of jobs due to underdeveloped industry
  • Domestic violence victims have fewer options due to lack of housing resources and income earning potential.
  • Primary stakeholders to engage (in addition to the main stakeholder recommendations):<H3>
  • County tribal leaders and elders
  • State and county land-use officials
  • Private and government housing development partners
  • Private business and the Small Business Administration (SBA)
  • Communication and technology sectors (to create technology infrastructure as needed)
  • Service providers able to travel to clients
  • Agency to perform point-in-time counts in winter and spring to track more transient nature of rural homeless

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