New in January: Homeless Crisis Response System

by Klarissa Monteros,Program Manager

Pierce County’s homeless and housing system is making an exciting shift from what has been an Anti-Poverty System to what will be a Homeless Crisis Response System.  This system will change from a “first come, first served” approach to a system that prioritizes housing for those people who are literally homeless and most vulnerable.Coordinated Entry System, Associated Ministries, It will operate like an emergency room: Services will focus on finding solutions that address the immediate crisis of homelessness. In traditional systems, providers wait for families to be “Housing Ready” before providing housing resources to them.  Examples of “Housing Ready” are once a full-time job has been established or after drug and alcohol treatment has been completed.  The new Homeless Crisis Response System will follow a “Housing First” model and regard everyone as “Housing Ready” despite their circumstances. Everyone is deserving of the very basic need of housing FIRST. Once that basic need is met, the family or individual is connected to resources that address longer-term needs like substance abuse and/or employment can be made.

A key shift in this new approach is to change our Centralized Intake System to a Coordinated Entry System.  Associated Ministries’ Access Point 4 Housing (AP4H) has been delivering Centralized Intake to the community for the past 4 years.  During this time we learned more about what homelessness looks like in Pierce County than ever before.  By instituting AP4H homeless services were systematized. With a centralized point of contact for services, we were able to gather very useful data. We learned characteristics such as who was actually experiencing homelessness, who was being served by community, and who was falling between the cracks.

Data showed us that those who are most vulnerable were not being served by the community.  Assessment of the information we gathered greatly influenced the system to change to the emergency room analogy that was mentioned above. We are so excited to say that systems change and improvements are actually happening!  In 2016 the most vulnerable persons will be the first to receive resources.  Associated Ministries has been proactive in expediting the change by meeting people who are experiencing homelessness where they are; we are now going to them instead of them coming to us.  Access Point 4 Housing is now located at 12 different sites across the County. The locations include New Nativity House, Salvation Army, Tacoma Rescue Mission, Adams Street Family Campus, Sumner Family Center, New Hope, St. Francis House, TACID, REACH, OASIS, Gig Harbor FISH, and the Associated Ministries Lakewood office. Shifting from a Centralized Intake Model to a Coordinated Entry Model will mean we will be able to reach populations we were unable to reach before because we are going directly to the places they are seeking services.  And we are still able to learn from the data we collect and improve the services we provide as a collaborative coordinated entry system! If you would like to learn more about the benefits of a coordinated entry system you can visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness website.  You can also read the Executive Summary of the assessment made of the Pierce County Homeless System by Focus Strategies and learn more about the vision of Coordinated Entry.  

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