Coordinated Entry Systems Management

Published: December 20, 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.


Budget Planning

Creating a coordinated entry system requires alignment of local and federal funding. The Planning Committee must include philanthropic and government funders to streamline funds to respond to a coordinated entry system. However, the alignment of funds does not end at coordinated entry.

A new entry system will necessitate a change in how homeless households and those at risk are stabilized. The philosophical shift from a “housing ready” strategy to a rapid re-housing strategy is the intended consequence of implementing coordinated entry. While regions focus on creating a coordinated entry system, their efforts must include adjusting service dollars that support rapid re-housing and prevention principles.

How the emergency-housing continuum (shelter, transitional housing, and motel vouchers) is structured and funded will also have to be reassessed. As counties develop a budget to implement coordinated entry, funding alignment for the entire spectrum of housing support services should begin as well.

That said, the budget for planning, implementation, and ongoing costs is based on the mission, goals, and expected outcomes of the coordinated entry system. Each region’s budget is a unique reflection of:

  • Homeless and at-risk population(s) the system will serve: Remember that all populations should be served through coordinated entry, and this can affect budget forecasting should a system initially serve only one population (e.g., families).
  • Geography
  • Resources and infrastructure
  • Economic factors such as cost of living and wage rates

In Washington state, King County created a detailed implementation plan that helped identify needs and benchmarks to move planning along. The King County Implementation Plan shows activities the county identified as part of the implementation process and the expected associated costs. Reviewing this plan may assist in determining costs to implement a coordinated entry system.

Start-up costs

  • Building staff capacity—(government and service providers) through trainings and increasing staff as needed to plan and launch the new system with stakeholders. Consider adding time-limited positions to work exclusively on planning and implementation. If adding staff isn’t feasible due to cost constraints, review current staffing structure to reassign duties to accommodate planning and implementation needs.
  • Operational costs—office space, supplies, computers, phones, etc., to house the new system
  • Data collection infrastructure—HMIS created or expanded to meet demands of a coordinated entry system
  • Translation and interpretation needs for intake point(s) and referral partners
  • Marketing/communications costs

Sustainability costs

  • Staffing costs—this must include data collection and evaluation activities, as well as fiscal-agency lead staff to provide leadership on overall systems change, policies, and procedures
  • Operational costs—office space, computers, phones, etc.
  • Translation and interpretation needs for intake point(s) and referral partners
  • HMIS maintenance
  • Data collection and analysis for evaluation efforts
  • Marketing/communications

Budget planning tips

  • Utilize experience of other jurisdictions for budget forecasting and potential unexpected costs.
  • Do long-term budget planning; identify potential revenue streams for the system; look to other counties to examine the variety of sources used to financially support system implementation and long-term sustainability (document recording fees, property levy, housing trust funds, etc.).
  • Survey local or regional 2-1-1 office for data on requests for shelter or other emergency housing services in the last year (note potential demand will indicate staffing costs needed to support a coordinated entry system).
  • Survey local providers, or the agency identified as the lead, for tools and infrastructure already in place that will reduce start-up costs.
  • Consider recruiting volunteers through faith-based or other service organizations to provide initial screening, intake, and referral services.
  • Anticipate budget revisions (identifying appropriate staff levels often contribute to budget adjustments, generally an increase in expenditures).

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Assessment Forms

The purpose of the assessment process and form(s) is to document a client’s homeless history and housing barriers, match clients to appropriate services, capture data to meet program needs, and create an action plan to support the client toward housing stability.

Depending on the system’s mission, intake model, and services offered from referral partners, one to three or more forms may need to be created. Those forms may include an intake form to screen clients into services and a primary assessment form to identify low- medium-high-needs households for placement into prevention services, rapid re-housing, or emergency shelter. An in-depth assessment form would be used for case management planning once household is matched to an appropriate provider.

Assessment forms: Four golden rules

Whether for primary screening or for comprehensive assessment at referral sites, the coordinated entry assessment form must be:

  • Aligned with the mission, goals and expected outcomes of coordinated entry and its services
  • Developed in tandem with the database for accurate data collection once the system goes live
  • Developed in collaboration with partner agencies to create buy-in and build trust in the new system
  • Based on strengths—a holistic review of a household’s resources that can support them toward achieving self-sufficiency

Assessing urgency

As an additional consideration, prioritization may affect how households are brought into services. If a region expects to prioritize a subset of homeless households, an assessment form should tease out the priority population while still identifying the needs of the non-prioritized population. Priority may be literally homeless versus households that are doubled up so that shelter space is given to those without any shelter.

Here is an example from the YWCA (in Canton, Ohio) system, which uses a form to determine the urgency of the shelter request at intake. The form responds to the priority to reduce entry into shelter. The region uses the shelter system and then rapidly re-houses (a co-priority) households once a more thorough assessment is made in the shelter. With limited beds, determining if the household has other shelter options is important to avoid a waitlist backlog.

Shelter question “urgency” test

The following questions assist in determining the urgency of the shelter applicant’s request for assistance:

  • Where did you stay last night?
  • Why do you have to leave the place you stayed at last night?
  • What is your relationship to the person who gave you a place to stay last night?
  • How long have you stayed at this location?
  • Do you pay anything?
  • When do you have to leave?
  • If we can’t house you, where will you stay tonight?
  • Can you find a place for a couple of nights?
  • What is your relationship to the person who is giving you a place to stay while you wait for a shelter or housing bed to open?
  • If the person who gave you a place to stay allows you to continue to stay overnight, will that person put her/his own housing in jeopardy (violating lease)?
  • Where do you have your personal belongings?
  • Do you have any income?
  • How much money do you have (to determine if a motel or rent is possible)?

Here are additional examples of intake and assessment forms from Minneapolis/Hennepin County, Minnesota and Columbus, Ohio that can be of use to determine if a household needs prevention or diversion assistance. See Implementation Resources for links to additional examples of client intake and assessment forms

Based on review of local and national practices, Building Changes recommends using a two-tiered uniform assessment process. The first form screens for eligibility and diversion. The second is used if the household meets eligibility guidelines for the system’s target population(s). This form is the comprehensive assessment form that focuses on individuals’ and families’ strengths and housing barriers. This assessment seeks to identify an individual and family’s history, personal resources, and key needs that, if met, will help the individual or family obtain and retain permanent housing.

Assessment forms and database considerations

Developing assessment tools in tandem with the database guarantees that the coordinated entry system will most likely operate the way it was intended. Without matching the assessment tools and database:

  • The system cannot work seamlessly, thus preventing time and cost savings that a coordinated entry system can offer
  • It will be difficult to gather solid data and track outcomes to improve and expand the system
  • Households will not be matched to the appropriate provider, thus homeless and at- risk households remain unstable

The information from assessment forms should be uploaded or entered directly into the shared database to quickly begin matching individuals and families to housing programs that have demonstrated success with clients who have similar presenting issues and needs.

For more details, see Data Collection.
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ROIs, MOU/MOAs, and Client Grievance and Rights

There are three additional documents of special note when implementing a coordinated entry system:

ROI (Release of Information)

  • Allows client data to be shared between a seamless support network of providers that can work efficiently and effectively with clients
  • Alerts clients that their information will be shared with other providers
  • Confirms that a client’s confidentiality will be protected
  • Assures the client that they may refuse to release personal information

Key consideration:

  • Review county laws regarding sharing client data and information between providers to ensure that tools needed to implement the coordinated entry system are not hampered by local and state laws or provisions regarding privacy of personal information.

MOU/MOA (Memorandum of Understanding/Agreement)

  • Binds participating providers into collaborations; defines performance expectations
  • Clarifies data sharing and data collection standards
  • Solidifies commitment to participate in coordinated entry (using common assessment tools; adhering to a standard of client services) and inspires all to meet expected outcomes.

Key considerations:

  • Memorandums are useful to clarify expectations about participation, services, and expected outcomes. Design these tools with the potential partner-agency pool to encourage agencies to sign agreements and follow through on them.
  • However, use data and evaluation reports to address compliance and performance concerns. The MOU/MOA is helpful to bring the partners together and to remind agencies struggling with the new system what they agreed to do. But it is the data and evaluation results of the system and service delivery that will drive home to partners where there is success and where there is room for improvement.

Here are examples of a data sharing MOA and client ROI from Whatcom County, Washington.

Client grievance policy and rights

  • Gives clients an opportunity to feel empowered about the services they choose to receive
  • Holds client accountable to responding to calls for available services or housing units
  • Explains the coordinated entry process to clients so they understand their responsibilities and those of the coordinated entry system process and partners

Key considerations:

  • It is imperative to have a grievance policy and rights for clients regarding their participation in the coordinated entry system. Often ROIs will cover the client’s privacy rights and their right to refuse to answer questions in reference to their personal information. Government and private nonprofits should have established client grievance policies that govern the specific organization.
  • A coordinated entry system should have a grievance process that clients are made aware of at intake. The grievance policy should center on the client’s rights regarding the coordinated entry system’s process. The policy should clarify for a client the process the client would go through to challenge a decision to be removed from the waitlist or denied services. A client should understand at intake and during the assessment process:
    • How many times the client can refuse a referral for services
    • What the no-show policy is
    • How many times the client can refuse housing placement (whether emergency housing, transitional, or permanent)
    • How their name is maintained on a waitlist and the time frame they have to respond to a call for a referral or housing placement

In King County, coordinated entry lead agency, Family Housing Connection, posts client coordinated entry process rights and protections at intake locations and reviews them with clients at intake.

See Implementation Resources for links to examples of client rights, grievance and consent forms and additional examples of ROIs and MOU/MOAs.
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Inventory Tracking and Waitlists

The coordinated entry system provides access to the referral process for housing and services. The goals and outcomes of the referral process are:

  • Accurate match of client needs to providers with appropriate housing resources
  • Intake information that results in an informed match to available services
  • An effective referral so provider accepts and enrolls the household into services

Timely matching of a client to resources is dependent on accurate inventory tracking. Inventory tracking for resources must happen in real time. Real time tracking is dependent on partner agencies’ prompt and consistent updating of resources (whether beds, units, rental assistance, or case-management enrollment). Clear policies and procedures and MOU/MOAs can create strong collaborations that encourage agency accountability to real time inventory tracking. An effective coordinated entry system must be able to report in real time the type and quantity of resources available at any given time. Waitlists can be used to manage demand for housing inventory but have specific requirements.

Waitlist considerations

  • Using waitlists for inventory tracking requires another layer of coordination for the lead agency or collaborative of partner agencies that runs the coordinated entry system.
  • If the system is run by a lead agency, that agency must maintain the waitlist and follow up with households as space opens up. The lead agency must work diligently with housing and service providers to update available resources in their programs daily.
  • The waitlist can be stored in the shared database/HMIS in use or stand alone within the lead agency.
  • If the system is run by a collection of agencies using common intake and assessment tools, the collaborative must decide how the waitlist is managed: as a collective or individually. If as a collective, how are the resources updated and communicated? If one agency is identified as the waitlist minder, does that agency update resource availability and follow up with households when vacancies occur?

No-waitlist considerations

  • One less level of coordination for the system
  • Less labor-intensive as there is no follow-up with households once there is an opening
  • The system is more likely to be a first come, first served structure, which may conflict with the goals of a system that prioritizes the highest-need households

General considerations

  • Both options require inventory tracking in real time—is the HMIS in use capable to perform this task? If not, can it be altered, or must another parallel system be developed to manage resource availability?
  • Both options also require partners to report openings daily. How will partners be held accountable?
  • The “no-waitlist” option may conflict with a system’s mission, e.g., prioritizing the literally homeless or DV clients.
  • Regions can offer a hybrid or waitlist/no waitlist structure: Prioritize a specific population on a waitlist, while having others call back. Or regions can prioritize shelter residents for permanent housing placement, to open up shelter space for those who are homeless, regardless of the severity (no waitlist and no prioritization) of their homelessness.

Next: Implementation Challenges and Tips

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