Planning Challenges and Tips

Published: December 19, 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’ planning processes. The purpose of this information is to lessen miscalculations and oversights that can delay the success of a coordinated entry system.


  • Establishing shared mission, goals, and outcomes for coordinated entry that will be accepted by all participants
  • Designing a system that is based on the stated shared mission, goals, and outcomes
  • Creating political will to support establishment of countywide system
  • Developing a communication plan that relays systems change to funders, providers, government, and the greater community/consumers
  • Encountering resistance from providers (government and nonprofits) to embrace coordinated entry due to:
    • A housing-first/rapid re-housing philosophy that is in stark contrast to years of “housing-ready” philosophy
    • Entities having to give up control over referrals and enrollment
    • Fear that new process may create more work for staff feeling already overworked
    • Lack of trust between providers to fulfill duties
    • Lack of trust between funders and providers
    • Concern over privacy of client information, especially for domestic violence victims
    • Fear of not understanding how to use HMIS or that its use will create more work
    • Change, which is disorienting because it creates insecurity about jobs and ability to meet new performance expectations
    • Leadership within social service organizations that, actively or passively, does not support coordinated entry but agrees to be part of the referral system, leading to noncompliance of policies and procedures from direct- service staff
  • Staffing expertise needed to facilitate new system, e.g., staff must be trained on HMIS, new assessment and intake procedures, and new case management techniques
  • Pull between securing funding for more staff or using well-trained volunteers and how to train and retain them
  • Agreeing on one definition of homelessness to be used by all providers
  • Budgeting—cost of implementing and sustaining the system
  • HMIS capabilities; building capacity for intake, assessment, and evaluation data (link to current HMIS in use or build within HMIS)
  • Designing an assessment tool (agreed on by partners) that collects information relevant to mission, goals, and outcomes, and matches database fields
  • Securing and affording interpretive services needed to serve non-English-speaking clients at intake and referral-agency level
  • Existing funder requirements that conflict with requirements of coordinated entry system and associated services
  • High demand and limited intake staff, service providers, and community resources, e.g., housing, jobs, training/education, and child care
  • Inadequate community infrastructure such as Internet, cell phone service and transportation systems
  • Creating collective impact: true, deep collaboration between governments, funders, and social services to establish a streamlined and efficient coordinated system that moves the homeless or those at risk into housing stability


  • Take time to fully understand current realities facing the county, the homeless and at-risk populations.
  • Be thoughtful and inclusive about who will be part of the planning committee for a coordinated entry system. Develop an awareness of what creates and sustains poverty and how coordinated entry and additional systems change can reduce and end homelessness.
  • State mission, goals, and outcomes. The identified mission and goals must inform every aspect of the coordinated entry system.
    • Mission determines the target population(s) and the services to be coordinated through a system: ideally, coordinated entry serves all homeless and at-risk populations
    • Mission informs the goals of the system
    • Mission and goals determine assessment forms and database needs
    • Goals clarify the service delivery process as well as the providers and resources that are essential to meeting those goals.
    • Goals determine the outcomes that are expected and how the system will be evaluated.
  • Communicate, and communicate some more. Have a well-targeted communications and change-management plan, and it will result in:
    • Shared mission, goals, outcome expectations, and definition of homelessness
    • Cooperation from the various stakeholders that are needed to enact change
    • Information effectively dispersed through organizations, from executive/CEO level, to middle managers, frontline staff and board members
    • Reduction in resistance to change from nonprofit and government providers
  • Build face-to-face relationships
    • With counties that have a coordinated entry system in place to learn from them
    • With providers who may be part of the referral system, to establish buy-in and trust
    • With other system providers (health, education, treatment programs, law enforcement, etc.) to deepen collaboration that will build a streamlined and efficient social service network
  • Determine how you will evaluate your system before implementation. It is vital to understand from the beginning that the system is an organic entity that requires counties to adjust as the environment evolves and lessons are learned; this is accomplished through evaluation and applying the results to improve the system.
  • Have policies and procedures in place before unveiling the system. Clients and providers will struggle with adapting to the change. Although some of the rules may change once the system goes live, having them in place will alleviate anxiety and ease frustrations while initial issues are solved. Key questions to consider:
    • Will clients have choice about housing offered? If so, how many times can clients refuse the housing offered before they are taken off a waitlist?
    • How do agencies sign up to participate in the system? How do they opt out?
    • Is there a grievance process for clients or providers?
    • What happens if the household and referred program are not a good fit?
    • Is the system first come, first served, or are clients evaluated for vulnerability and prioritized? If prioritized, partner agencies need to agree on method to prioritize clients for services.
  • Clearly delineate lead fiscal agent and lead implementer responsibilities if using two entities to manage system:
    • Fiscal entity must take full responsibility to maintain integrity of coordinated entry system: establish authority and provide leadership throughout planning, implementation, and subsequent comprehensive systems change
    • Lead fiscal agent holds all grantees accountable to the scope of work they have signed on to perform
    • Lead implementer focuses on coordinated entry process and problem solving as needed and sends irresolvable performance and compliance issues to fiscal agent to work out with grantee
  • Develop database and assessment forms in tandem. Assessing clients before the database is working will result in incomplete data. The final database fields may differ from the assessment forms, leaving empty data fields. Avoid rolling out a coordinated entry system without a fully operational database. Lead agencies in charge of implementation agree that it is worth delaying the system’s launch until the database is completed for the following reasons:
    • Going back to do a data cleanup is inefficient and time-consuming
    • Staff time spent away from screening and placing callers into services creates a backlog and leaves housing and service resources idle, resulting in unmet client needs
    • Delay in client referrals causes frustration for providers, negatively affecting an already delicate relationship in which trust is still being built between coordinated entry lead and housing/service providers

Next: Planning Resources

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