Published: January 26, 2013

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 state of Washington published its 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in July 2006. And since that first report was released, the state’s core goal has remained constant: to reduce and eventually end homelessness.

Building Changes is proud to be part of this important goal. In our role of advancing improved programming, Building Changes proudly presents the Coordinated Entry Toolkit to help counties meet Washington state’s funding mandate that all counties have a coordinated entry system by the end of 2014 that connects the homeless and those at risk to services. Federal homeless and emergency assistance funds are also tied to the requirement that grantees use a coordinated entry and assessment system. Systems change is not just a Washington state initiative, but a national one, as well.

Regardless of mandates, coordinated entry is an opportunity to streamline access, assessment, and referral processes for housing and other services across agencies in a community. Coordinated entry has proven to be a more efficient and effective process that places the client at the center of the system rather than programs. Based on a household’s unique needs, a household is matched to an appropriate provider who then works with the household to identify its strengths and resources; goals are set to move the household toward self-sufficiency. Evaluation and research has shown that a coordinated entry and assessment system:

  • Results in improvements in service delivery in as little as one year
  • Improves outcomes for all demographics
  • Lowers the rates of return to homelessness
  • Reduces costs, both financial and time, as service networks are streamlined

Launching a coordinated entry system takes time and demands a community make a cultural shift in how it understands and addresses homelessness and housing instability. Coordinated entry is the beginning of broader systems change that includes:

  • Prevention
  • Rapid re-housing
  • Tailored programs and services
  • Linkages to economic opportunity

It is important to understand that coordinated entry on its own will not reduce or end homelessness. It does not create housing units and ensure stability for the homeless by itself. It is one system connected to others that together creates an efficient and effective social safety network. Implementing a coordinated entry system is vital to realize the benefits of overall systems change that is needed to begin moving towards the long-term goal of reducing and ending homelessness.

With so many profound developments to the social service construct, Building Changes saw an opportunity to assist communities’ progress towards these new innovations by offering a toolkit for the first stage of change—incorporating a coordinated entry system. Building Changes assembled the toolkit with the intent to:

  • Demystify the complexity of designing a coordinated entry system
  • Reduce time and staff costs associated with creating a system
  • Share effective methods
  • Offer lessons learned to minimize potential missteps that may impede the success of a coordinated entry system

The toolkit provides a framework that is neither too rigid nor too flexible so that counties can use the recommendations to construct a system that reflects best practices, yet responds to the unique needs of their communities. The Building Changes toolkit offers guidance on:

Additionally, the toolkit offers a list of key terms with definitions to ensure clarity for readers. At the end of each section is a list of resources that further investigate the toolkit topic. As new studies and research are released, Building Changes will post them for continued education. The “challenges and tips” section within each topic area offers feedback gathered from Washington state counties and from regions across the country that have implemented coordinated entry.

Building Changes looks forward to offering additional toolkits and reports in the future to support overall systems change for Washington state communities and for communities across the country. Through continued partnerships with service providers and city, county, state and federal planners, local and national funders (private philanthropy and government), Building Changes is confident that together the shared goal of reducing and ending homelessness can be met.

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