After successful pilot, county expands its single "front door" to shelter for homeless

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.

Communities around the world are trying various approaches to better serve their homeless residents. And when one agency finds something that is working, it's information worth sharing. Read below about Sonoma County, CA's success with a single "front door" to shelter pilot. – Philip Bane

The two-year pilot that aimed to provide a single "front door" to shelter for homeless families in Sonoma County produced such compelling results that the county will expand it to serve the county's entire homeless population – estimated at about 3,000 people.

What that means for homeless people looking for housing is they no longer have to navigate multiple programs run by multiple service providers and get their names onto multiple waiting lists.

For homeless people in the middle of crisis and chaos, Jennielynn Holmes tells the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, that decentralized process can be difficult, often requiring in-person visits to several different providers. Holmes is shelter and housing director with Santa Rosa Catholic Charities, which was awarded a contract to expand the coordinated intake effort.

"Now they find one point of contact, and that one point of contact kind of triages and navigates them to any of the shelter or housing beds in the county," Holmes said. "Rather than having to go to multiple people, they go to one."

Producing results
In the first year of the pilot, 1,285 family members received assistance, according to the Press Democrat. The county reported that it took an average of 57 days for people to exit the program and get into their own home. That's down from 196 days prior to the program's implementation.

"It’s really producing results," Supervisor Shirley Zane said, adding that the numbers are evidence of the "amazing outcomes" that coordinated intake can produce for the county.

The Sonoma County Community Development Commission was awarded $250,000 in federal funds to expand the pilot, which will allow Catholic Charities to hire additional mobile intake workers as well as housing navigators to work with real estate agencies to locate permanent homes. Another $50,000 in federal money will be used to expand the Homeless Management Information System -- technology that helps the county track homeless people across the various public and nonprofit service providers involved.

As part of the coordinated intake expansion, the program will shift to prioritizing need for shelter based on vulnerability rather than first come, first served.

As Holmes told the Press Democrat: "It’s kind of like what you do in the emergency room if you have someone who shows up who’s having a heart attack and someone else has a stubbed toe. You prioritize the person with the heart attack."

New HUD requirements
The Sonoma County program was triggered by new federal mandates.

In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced new requirements for coordinated entry programs that Continuums of Care (CoC) and certain funding recipients must meet. It also provides guidance on additional policies that communities should consider to achieve improved outcomes for people experiencing homelessness.

Under the mandate, each CoC is expected to establish or update its coordinated entry process by Jan. 23, 2018. Details are available on HUD's coordinated entry landing page.

Related articles:
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Bridging human services silos that impede progress on homelessness
$5 million boost will expand promising UW technology that streamlines social service delivery


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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