The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) has a bold plan to implement Coordinated Entry, a system intended to cut down on the runaround homeless people often must go through to get access to stable housing. Rather than being sent from provider to provider, this system would ideally keep track of all information kept by various providers on each individual and prioritize who is funneled into the limited housing units available.
The first part of this plan has already gone into effect, with Coordinated Entry being introduced for homeless families attempting to access stable shelter. There are generally two types of shelter; 90 – 120 day stable shelter beds or those you access on an emergency basis, typically night by night with mats on the floor, called emergency beds. Before the system went into effect, families waited on long waitlists to be considered for stable shelter, with priority offered to those with serious medical conditions. For the past year however, the waitlists have been abandoned. At first, the Coordinated Entry system offered no priority for people with health conditions, instead prioritizing those living on the streets. This created a huge problem because it incentivized families to stay on the streets to garner access more stable shelters and left out families with severe medical conditions that were being denied treatment until they had stable shelter.. But Compass Family Services intervened, taking over part of the program and reinstating a preference for those who could prove they had medical conditions that made it more urgent that they be housed, who had new born babies or other extenuating circumstances. Even so, this system has been extremely complicated and has failed to ensure equity for those waiting to be housed.
But in an effort to correct this failing, HSH is about to implement something that may be even more confusing and will likely fall far short in addressing the problems it has created. The new system seeks to address the issue of incentivizing families to stay on the street, but it eliminates any priority given to people with medical conditions, or people with extremely young children. Instead it makes the length of time that a person has experienced homelessness the sole factor in housing placement, and creates an unnecessarily complicated point system that awards 1 point for families who are sleeping on the streets or in under-resourced emergency shelters such as First Friendship but .6 points for families staying in Hamilton Family Services Emergency Beds.
While this acknowledges the disparity of resources between family shelters, it is a move to let the City off the hook for failing to provide adequate and equitable resources to all family shelters. Rather than simply prioritize families in underfunded shelters, the city should be committing to improving shelter conditions in shelters that are currently failing to serve their clients.
Also of concern is the new plan to require that length of homelessness for families staying on the street be verified by a team of two outreach workers currently assigned in the Bayview. The first date of homelessness would be the date the family is verified, even if they have been on the streets for a very long time. This is a tremendous undertaking, as families are often pushed from place to place by sweeps, fear of child protective services reports, and other harassment and so are extremely difficult to keep track of. The federal HUD guidelines recommend that homeless people be allowed to self-report their length of homelessness, rather than developing complicated bureaucratic tasks like this one, and would punish families who are unable to get verified.
Additionally, in order to address the shortfalls of the new Coordinated Entry system failing to prioritize families with chronic health conditions, HSH has proposed using medical hotel rooms to house people suffering from illness. This is a departure from the policy up to this point, which has been that these rooms be made available only to contain contagious diseases and only with the approval of Department of Public Health. In addition, there are only 2 hotel rooms, and far more need.
The failings of the proposed new Coordinated Entry system for families should come as no surprise. The new plan was developed with absolutely no input from homeless families themselves, or from the service providers. Without such input, HSH cannot anticipate and avoid the problems that come up in the day-to-day lives of homeless families. When the first Coordinated Entry plan was initially proposed, the Homeless Emergency Service Providers Association (HESPA) took it upon themselves to seek extensive community input from homeless people and the larger community and put together a list of recommendations to guide HSH in implementing a system that would ensure equity for families. This list should be a resource to HSH as they rework the proposed changes to Coordinated Entry to ensure that the needs of homeless families are represented in the proposal.