Since 2018, the City of San Francisco has been using a system called Coordinated Entry to distribute housing resources to homeless people. Coordinated Entry is mandated by the federal government, and requires the city to score homeless people with points, to identify which people are the most vulnerable. The people with the most vulnerabilities (for example disability, substance abuse, or mental illness), are the first ones prioritized to receive housing. The Coalition on Homelessness hosted a listening session in August with 35 families who were experiencing or had experienced homelessness to get feedback on how Coordinated Entry has been going for people.
In our listening sessions, the No. 1 complaint we heard was lack of respect and lack of trauma-informed care in the assessment process, as well as the shelters. Participants reported discrimination due to the language they spoke or their legal status. One of the participants shared: “The social worker isn’t patient with me. You get buried with a lot of questions. It’s more of an interrogation than a help of needs.” Another said, “I found out how to enter a shelter. I was evicted for not paying the rent and they threatened to call immigration. They told me I could not apply to a shelter because there was no space… I would like the people who attend the shelters to have sensitivity; the vast majority of us who live on the street have traumas and we want people to have empathy”
The second most common piece of feedback was that there were not enough resources to go around. One of the mothers said, “I would like the help to be permanent. In the subsidy many times when the contract ends, and they see that you already have a job, you no longer qualify and they take away the aid and we fall back into the same circle. They take away our support if we earn a little more. I would like the aid they give us to be more stable, it is good that they reduce the subsidy but not that they take it away because it is not fair if we are still part of a minority”
Everyone thinks it’s a good idea to give housing to those who need it most. However, there is way less housing available than the number of people who need it. When the vulnerability qualification is applied to all extremely low-income housing across the city, there are swaths of people who will never be able to get any housing resources at all because they are “not vulnerable enough.”
This has also resulted in racial disparities. In some counties, white people are more likely to be housed through Coordinated Entry. The exact reason isn’t clear, but Margot Kushel, a doctor and researcher on homelessness at UC San Francisco, speaking on According to Need, a podcast series from 99% Invisible, said, “There’s so much structural racism, it is much easier to become homeless if you’re Black…So what we see, if you just look within the homeless population, the Black folks look healthier. Because to be homeless and Black means you could just be poor. And in general, this is a sweeping generalization, but in general, … a higher proportion of the white folks who are homeless have these disabilities that are related to their homelessness. Not everyone, of course, but you’re more likely… And so what people who have interrogated this have found – and this is true in many places across the country – is that the white folks are more likely to get resources just because they score higher because these scoring systems are all based on individual vulnerability.”
From a bird’s-eye view, data from a San Francisco public records request shows that the racial breakdown of people who get housing through Coordinated Entry and the racial breakdown of the homeless point-in-time counts are pretty similar, but that doesn’t mean that systemic racism isn’t there.
On the housing side, housing providers are seeing more people with extremely high acuity enter permanent supportive housing compared to before Coordinated Entry was implemented. For example, a property manager we spoke to who runs several permanent supportive housing buildings reported that someone moved in who was totally blind. “They can’t do things for themselves. It leads to them being taken advantage of by other folks in the hotels. Other people are running off with their money. It hasn’t been many, but we’ve gotten a few that were totally disabled that should have went to Laguna Honda or something like that. They shouldn’t have been placed in housing where it was independent living … There’s only so much our case managers can do.”
The third most common piece of feedback about Coordinated Entry was that participants didn’t understand the resources available and where they had to go to access them. At least one participant was afraid to use the system due to having children, and no assurance that the government wouldn’t take her children away once there was a record of her being homeless in the system.
It makes good sense to coordinate housing resources so that homeless people don’t have to get bounced around from provider to provider. It also makes sense to give housing resources to those in the most need. However, there are so few housing resources available that the vast majority of people going through Coordinated Entry do not get anything. For Coordinated Entry to make sense, there needs to be housing for the city to be able to coordinate the entry of homeless people into.
Overall, our research shows that Coordinated Entry is too complicated, does not give people the dignity they deserve, and does not provide enough housing resources to bring people out of homelessness permanently.
Statement from an Impacted San Franciscan
I, Maria Eugenia, am a single grandmother who has raised my grandson since he was 5 months old, he is a child who is already 13 years old.
I am a person with a physical disability who is 32 years old and I suffer from diabetes. I have always rented rooms because with the help I receive I cannot afford anything better. I have already been in shelters on two occasions, and for that reason my grandson and I both got COVID 19.
I went to seek help for a housing subsidy and they sent me to Coordinated Entry, where they decided based on an evaluation whether or not to give me a temporary subsidy for two years. I am very grateful for this ceiling, but the reality is that I need a permanent allowance because of the state of my health, as I already mentioned.
I was one of the people who supported Proposition C and fought for it, and that is why today I ask the city to change the Coordinated Entry system and to give permanent housing subsidies to those who need it.
What Is Coordinated Entry?
Coordinated Entry is what the City of San Francisco uses to prioritize which homeless people get subsidized housing. People go to an Access Point, where they are given an Assessment. The questions in the assessment are used to score how vulnerable a homeless person is. For example, if you have a disability, you would get more points in your score. The people with the highest scores get more housing resources. Access Points specialize in families, youth, or single adults, but anyone can get assessed at any Access Point.
Resources that you can get through Coordinated Entry:
- Permanent Supportive Housing, which is mostly for single adults.
- Rapid Rehousing, which is a time-limited rental assistance, mostly for families and youth
- Problem Solving, where you do not get housing, but you can get some money to help stay housed, for example, a bus ticket to travel to a family member who you can live with, or money to help with utility bills so that the person you are living with will let you stay.
- Emergency Shelter, which is mostly for families.
Resources that are NOT a part of Coordinated Entry:
- Low income housing (lottery)
- Affordable housing listed on DAHLIA database
- Shelter for single adults
- Public Housing
- Section 8/Housing Choice Vouchers
Coordinated Entry is required by the federal government, however, the City of San Francisco decides how to do it. So, we can advocate for improvements that make it more equitable.