Hospital emergency rooms have a triage system for deciding which patients need the most urgent care, followed by who can wait a little longer or perhaps who can get what they need from someone other than a doctor.
Centralized intake is the homeless system’s version of emergency triage. Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, articulates this as opening the front door.
If we want people to enter housing as quickly and appropriately as possible we need a system for evaluating needs and referring people to the best program to meet those need. A coordinated entry process makes it more likely that families will be served by the right intervention more quickly. In a coordinated system, each system entry point (“front door”) uses the same assessment tool. Ideally the assessment will point the case worker to the right services based on a thorough understanding of the individual family needs. A well trained intake worker will know all the programs that available – an up to date community database is the easiest tool for this.
Almost certainly you and your clients have spent many hours going to multiple agencies, filling out paperwork and discovering they can’t help anyway. Each agency may have separate and duplicative intake forms or requirements, slowing down families’ receipt of assistance.
As a practical matter communities are wasting time and money on a small subset of families whose needs may primarily be economic, while those with more significant challenges (co-occurring disorders, complete lack of a social support system, etc.) are falling through the cracks. Centralized intake makes it easier for communities to match families to the services they need, no matter how difficult their barriers are to address.
Some communities may rely almost entirely on its Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). HUD requires all CoCs to have this database for tracking all activity regarding housing and services for homeless people. If you are not already familiar with the HMIS system you need to learn about it yesterday, if not sooner. The data it collects will drive local planning. Every time your client’s homeless episode is added to HMIS you are demonstrating the need for housing for DV victims.
HMIS has some limited ability to act as centralized intake by simply taking information about people as they seek help. The best practice will be a model in which a family can fill out one set of forms that will be accepted throughout the housing system, at least for the most essential information.
This is the next step of your investigation into your community’s housing system. You have learned about the CoC, found the lead agency and talked to policy makers about your clients’ needs. Now you are going to learn everything you can about your housing system’s intake system.
Here’s a note of caution, however. As you are reading this HUD is writing updated rules on centralized intake. This could mean local systems will change their existing processes. You may not be able to get all of your questions answered as easily during this process.
Here’s some good news about HUD’s interim rules on intake. It specifically advises communities to consider the special needs of DV victims. Once again, press for information about how the intake system is organized to serve people who may have stalkers or be at risk for abusers to locate them. If no special considerations have been made perhaps your CoC leaders can benefit from your knowledge about victim safety. This may be a great way for you to “open the door” and become a valued member of the CoC planning process.