Published: December 21, 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.


Coordinated entry is a standardized access, assessment, and referral process for housing and other services across agencies in a community. The process can be applied to single or multiple populations. Coordinated entry is part of larger systems change to reduce homelessness that includes rapid re-housing, prevention, tailored programs and services and linkages to economic opportunity.

How Coordinated Entry Differs from Coordinated Systems

“Coordinated entry” is often confused with larger “coordinated systems” work. It is important to distinguish between the two terms to avoid misperceptions and unrealistic expectations of coordinated entry.

Coordinated entry

  • Performs a single task—it is a central point of access and assessment to connect service seekers to the right services; it utilizes resources currently available and matches those resources to the eligible homeless/at-risk population(s)
  • Focuses outcomes on rate of appropriate client-to-agency matches and reducing shelter stays or the incidence of homelessness; used alone, coordinated entry cannot prevent homelessness, secure permanent housing, offer tailored services, or increase income.
  • Is one part of a network of systems (known as “coordinated systems”) that collectively address homelessness

Coordinated systems

  • Refers to the group of interconnected systems—coordinated entry, prevention, rapid re-housing, tailored services, and linkages to economic opportunities that have the overarching goal and expected outcome of reducing and ending homelessness
  • Create a network that can reduce homelessness for all demographics by organizing an efficient and effective system
    • that households can easily access
    • through which households can be matched with the right provider and be given the appropriate services based on the household’s needs
    • that helps households stabilize income, which in turn improves housing stability

Communities planning a coordinated entry system should understand that other aspects of systems change must be implemented, to some degree, at the same time. Rapid re-housing and tailored services naturally flow from the creation of coordinated entry to reduce shelter stays; engaging in prevention and linkages to economic opportunities can reduce homelessness and shelter use. Comprehensive systems change supports the primary goals of coordinated entry by reducing shelter stays and shelter use.

Benefits of Coordinated Entry

Why use coordinated entry over the traditional approach of service seekers contacting multiple service providers who screen them directly to assess their needs and eligibility?

Aside from the fact that coordinated entry is now mandated at the federal level and in Washington state, there are some basic truths about why it is the right access approach to help end homelessness. Simply put, the old approach was not efficient and, most importantly, not effective for households seeking help—nor for the agency providing assistance.

Coordinated entry does not immediately create more housing units, but it uses the existing housing stock efficiently and reveals a clear vision for housing and support¬ services planning for the future. Research and evaluation have shown that coordinated entry provides benefits for the following stakeholders:


  • Access appropriate services more efficiently
  • Make fewer phone calls
  • Undergo fewer screenings
  • Receive a definitive “yes” or “no” to housing resource availability for their needs


  • Don’t have to spend their time screening clients, managing waitlists, or tracking down clients to fill available units or case-management slots
  • Can use assessment information already entered into HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) at intake and begin to work with clients immediately (if agreements are in place to share data)
  • Build trust and collaborations that ease caseloads, strengthen the social service network, and move clients more quickly to self-sufficiency

Administrators and funders

  • Receive data that is more complete and current
  • Can accurately identify needs, gaps, and strengths across the system, not just at the individual agency level
  • Comply with local and federal mandates
  • Can reduce system inefficiencies
  • Foster collaboration among providers
  • Maximize existing funding
  • Divert clients out of more costly systems by rapidly re-housing households and improving long-term housing stability
  • Reduce overall costs through decreased use of emergency services; streamlined services; improved service delivery and client outcomes; and reduced recidivism back into the homeless system

Next: Where to Begin?

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