By Klarissa Monteros, Housing Program Manager
Associated Ministries (AM) implemented Centralized Intake for those experiencing homelessness in Pierce County in 2011. We operated the County’s first centralized intake process for five years and learned for the first time what homelessness looks like in our community. Through these learnings we were able to move from a Centralized Intake process to a Coordinated Entry System (CES) in October of 2016. Focus Strategies consults with Pierce County and among other things they provide system and program evaluations assessing the effectiveness of CES. Their six month report stated they found that, overall, CES is achieving its intended objectives, including:
- People experiencing homelessness have a clear, well-understood pathway to accessing the homeless crisis response system.
- The CES helps households solve their own housing crisis and stay out of the homeless system whenever possible.
- Households receive the right resources at the right time.
- Those with the greatest needs are prioritized for the most intensive assistance.
- People experiencing homelessness move rapidly into permanent housing and do not experience subsequent returns to homelessness.
However, the evaluation also revealed that there is a racial disproportionality in the amount of African Americans accessing the lighter-touch Diversion services rather than a more in-depth housing intervention. African Americans are over represented as participants in this aspect of Coordinated Entry.
Everyone who reaches out to CES begins with a Diversion conversation. This conversation is an immediate problem solving intervention that assists clients to resolve their own housing crisis through creative thinking. Clients who feel they need a deeper intervention to solve their situation do not participate in Diversion and opt instead to be placed in our Priority Pool, through which they MAY eventually be referred to a housing program.
While 50 percent of everyone CES met with was white and 38 percent were black, 38 percent of white clients and nearly 50 percent of black clients chose to address their housing challenge through the Diversion intervention; there should be equivalent ratios participating from both groups. This disparity prompts further evaluation to ensure we are delivering equitable services to persons of color.
This is consistent with findings AM learned during focus groups with persons of color we held earlier this year. We found that there was an overall distrust in service delivery by people of color. They felt as though they were in “competition” for resources and that resources were hidden from them due to biases stemming from a “welfare” stereotype. As a result, many persons of color felt as though they had no choice but to accept any service or resource offered to them, even if it did not fully meet their need; they felt as though they would not receive other opportunities. This is useful information we are using to evaluate CES and make service delivery recommendations.
AM is committed to being an agency that serves everyone with equity and inclusion. We will continue to use data to assess and identify racial disparities and refine service delivery in order to effectively address all differences. We are honored to be a key part of our County’s Coordinated Entry System and its efforts to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time.