Implementation Challenges and Tips

Published: December 16, 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.


The challenges and tips detailed in this section are actual experiences and results of other counties’ implementation processes. The purpose of this information is to lessen miscalculations and oversights that can delay the success of a coordinated entry system.


  • The HMIS is not adequately meeting the needs of coordinated entry. Coordinated entry started without a fully operational database; therefore gaps in tracking inventory, waitlists, and collecting assessment data exist.
  • Crafting an uncomplicated outreach message for the greater community on how to access the system
  • Dispelling unrealistic expectations of the coordinated entry system, such as, “The system will create more housing units,” or “High-needs clients will not be part of the service model.”
  • Holding consistent meetings with primary stakeholders that fit into a variety of schedules to ensure good communication during and after implementation
  • Compelling housing providers to accept the rapid re-housing approach to maximize the expected outcomes of coordinated entry
  • Transitioning referral agencies to the system-wide common paperwork (intakes and assessment forms)
  • Developing an assessment tool agreed upon by all providers
  • Lack of resources to meet the needs of homeless and at-risk population
  • Managing the tension between holding agencies accountable to policies and procedures of the new system while encouraging and maintaining their cooperation and participation
  • Building confidence with agencies to allow another agency to perform the initial intake and referral to their housing programs
  • Often the coordinated entry system is seen as another layer of bureaucracy


  • Resources—Dedicate enough staff and time to implement a coordinated entry system and reduce stresses at launch. It is necessary to:
    • Select a coordinated entry model that reflects the mission and goals of the system to ensure adequate staffing
    • Set realistic expectations about what can be achieved up front versus over the long term; this will keep the initial implementation manageable while setting goals and future benchmarks for the system at a later date
    • Develop an effective communications plan centered on the purpose of coordinated entry (streamline client access, assessment, and referrals) to dispel misconceptions about the system
    • Have a fully operational database and assessment forms with matching fields
    • Have policies and procedures in place with a clear line of authority to the fiscal agency that will hold contracted partners accountable to these policies and procedures
  • Staffing—While very inexpensive to staff a call-in center with volunteers, this model requires:
    • Strong supervision and training to ensure consistency and adherence to policies and procedures
    • Compensation or other incentives to keep volunteers engaged; high turnover rate from volunteers results in screening staff being unfamiliar with community resources
  • Review accessibility framework—How will households access the coordinated entry system, in person or over the phone?
    • If clients can walk into an office, is there adequate waiting-room space? Is there enough privacy for intake interviews?
    • If there is a call-in center, are there enough phone lines? How long can callers be on hold, or can they leave messages?
  • Establish and review policies and procedures—Have enough in place to address issues such as intake process, referral process, re-referral process for inadequate provider/client matches, housing placement preferences of households, grievance process, and noncompliance issues.
  • Plan evaluation up-front—Determine how you will evaluate your system before launch. Evaluation is critical to the long-term efficacy of a coordinated entry system. It is essential to know what is and what isn’t working to identify new needs in the community that may change goals and adjust the mission. It is vital to understand from the beginning that the system is an organic entity that requires adjustment as the environment evolves and lessons are learned.
  • Communicate—and communicate some more. Plan to hold ongoing feedback forums with primary stakeholders (agencies and funders) as part of your evaluation process and communicate this during implementation. This results in:
    • Ability to address lingering provider non-compliance issues such as using different eligibility requirements for services, refusal to embrace rapid re-housing and ignoring other coordinated entry policies and procedures
    • Timely identification of system issues ( e.g., intake process, database, assessment forms, service delivery)
    • Opportunity for participating agencies to create a sense of ownership and responsibility to the system
  • Espouse benefits—Win over skeptics and reduce resistance with consistent messaging about the benefits of the system. Focus on benefits to clients, providers (reducing their work in many ways), and funders/government administrators. Keep systems-change messaging consistent, and reinforce messages over and over again in a variety of settings.
  • Meet quarterly with greater community—Hold community meetings, at least quarterly, that include clients served through the system.
  • Pretest intake and assessment forms—Consider testing intake and assessment forms with a small group of providers before opening up feedback on the forms by the entire network. Presenting a form that has been prescreened by a group of providers in the initial stage builds providers’ confidence in system changes—the entire provider network sees a form that needs little adjustment.
  • Engage faith-based communities—Reach out to private and faith-based programs to help support implementation. They are a key piece to a true system-wide effort.
  • Engage leader champions—Make sure leaders at the elected, grant-making, and agency levels will champion the idea and keep coordinated entry and further systems change moving forward.
  • Collaborate—Never underestimate the willingness of independent agencies to work together if the right mix of incentives is offered.

Next: Implementation Resources

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