Key Terms

Published: December 29, 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 “technical” terms used throughout this toolkit should be familiar to most state and county planners and service providers. For added clarity, and common reference, Building Changes has identified some key terms and defined them as follows:

assessment: A process that reveals the past and current details of a service seeker’s strengths, and needs, in order to match the client to appropriate services and housing. For the purpose of this toolkit, assessment will refer to a process (whether at primary screening and intake or at entry to a housing program) that reveals a client’s eligibility, needs, barriers, and strengths.

coordinated assessment: In some regions this term is synonymous with coordinated entry. However, for other areas, this term specifically relates to a collaborative of providers that use the same assessment tools to connect clients to services as a means for a coordinated entry system. For the purpose of this toolkit, coordinated assessment will not be used to refer to a coordinated entry system or for an assessment process.

coordinated entry: A standardized access, assessment, and referral process for housing and other services across agencies in a community. Other frequently used terms include “centralized or coordinated assessment” (HUD) and “coordinated entry and assessment” (NAEH). For the purpose of this toolkit, “coordinated entry” is the preferred term.

coordinated systems: Building Changes defines coordinated systems as an interconnected network of systems that services homeless and at-risk households, and consists of coordinated entry, rapid re-housing, prevention, tailored programs and services, and linkages to economic opportunity.

fiscal agent: For the purpose of this toolkit, the entity that coordinates funding and provides oversight to the coordinated entry system. The fiscal agent may also be the lead implementer/administrator of coordinated entry.

HEARTH: The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009 that includes Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Continuum of Care (CoC) grants.

HMIS: Homeless Management Information System; a centralized database designated to create an unduplicated accounting of homelessness. An HMIS may provide other functions beyond unduplicated accounting.

homeless: HUD definition as of January 2012: An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, which includes a primary nighttime residence of: place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (including car, park, abandoned building, bus/train station, airport, or camping ground); publicly or privately operated shelter or transitional housing, including a hotel or motel paid for by government or charitable organizations. In addition, a person is considered homeless if he or she is being discharged from an institution where he or she has been a resident for 90 days or less and the person resided in a shelter (but not transitional housing) or place not meant for human habitation immediately prior to entering that institution.

housing first: A case management/housing philosophy that houses chronically homeless high needs households into permanent supportive housing rather than wait until the household’s mental and/or medical health is stabilized.

housing ready: A case management/housing philosophy that placed homeless households into permanent housing only when determined the household was ready. Until that time, households were placed into long-term shelter or transitional programs. This philosophy is being replaced by a type of housing-first approach, known as “rapid re-housing.”

HUD: Department of Housing and Urban Development; the United States federal department that administers federal programs dealing with better housing and urban renewal. HUD oversees HEARTH-funded programs.

intake: For the purpose of this toolkit, the next step that a client encounters after screening for eligibility when connecting to a coordinated entry system. This step involves primary assessment of resources to refer households into appropriate services.

lead implementer: The agency identified as the primary administrator of coordinated entry, generally providing the screening, intake and referral services of coordinated entry. The lead implementer can also be a collaborative of agencies for decentralized coordinated entry models wherein the agencies collectively act as lead implementer for their area.

linkages to economic opportunity: An approach to help people stabilize their housing for the long term, by supporting educational and workforce development opportunities.

NAEH: National Alliance to End Homelessness; the leading voice on federal homelessness policy that provides capacity building assistance and educational resources around solutions to homelessness.

outcome: The specific result of what was provided from a specific activity or service; in relation to HUD/HEARTH, a specific result as detailed by HUD/HEARTH funding requirements.

parallel systems: For the purpose of this toolkit, alternative databases, used in addition to or in place of HMIS, to collect unduplicated information on homeless and at-risk households. These can include add-on platforms to track housing inventory and manage wait lists and client-to-provider matches, and other services such as support services and rental assistance; also includes systems for specific populations, such as youth and young adults or domestic violence.

prevention: An approach that focuses on preventing homelessness by providing assistance to households that otherwise would become homeless and end up in a shelter or on the streets.

rapid re-housing: An approach that focuses on moving homeless individuals and families into appropriate housing as quickly as possible by providing the type, amount and duration of housing assistance needed to stabilize the household. Rapid re-housing is replacing the former approach of “housing ready.”

screening: For the purpose of this toolkit, the process by which eligibility for housing and services is determined at the initial point of contact to a coordinated entry system. Once screening determines eligibility, the intake and referral process follows.

systems change: For the purpose of this toolkit, the processes by which regions alter the ways homeless and at-risk households engage with the homeless and housing system. The purpose of systems change is to implement practices that have shown to decrease the incidence and length of time in homelessness, with a long-term goal of reducing and ending homelessness.

tailored programs and services: An approach to case management services that matches the services to the particular individual’s or family’s needs rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.

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