A FYSB Grantee Adds a Youth Work Perspective to Coordinated Efforts to Serve the Homeless

Nonprofits and public agencies in Whatcom County, WA, that serve the homeless have eliminated their “waiting lists” as part of a communitywide effort to coordinate services and make it easier for people who need housing to find it.

The county has put in place a centralized, computerized “pool” that matches the most needy citizens with shelter or another service (such as mental health care) when it becomes available, says Riannon Bardsley, executive director of Northwest Youth Services, a Family and Youth Services Bureau-funded runaway and homeless youth program in Bellingham, WA. A second pool, maintained by Northwest Youth Services, keeps track of youth who request shelter and services.

Because of the new system, she says, “We have a better idea of how many people in Whatcom County are experiencing homelessness on any given day.” And the county’s homeless no longer have to get on multiple waiting lists and check in with each organization separately.

A Movement Toward ‘Coordinated Assessment’

Like Whatcom, many communities have begun to use coordinated assessment or intake to streamline the way they assist people who are homeless or may soon become homeless. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that recipients of its Emergency Solutions Grant and its Continuum of Care grants will have to have a coordinated assessment system. And the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, in which FYSB is a partner, sees coordinated assessment as a tool in its efforts to end homelessness.

“The runaway and homeless youth program within FYSB has a long history of partnering with our Federal and community-based colleagues to better serve the homeless population, be they families or unaccompanied youth or adults, by making it easier for them to access the help and services they need,“ says Curtis O. Porter, director of FYSB’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Program.

Generally, in a coordinated assessment system, everyone who needs help goes to just one agency or hotline, called the “entry point.” Staff at the entry point ask the homeless or soon-to-be-homeless person a series of standard questions about their situation. Then staff determine what kind of help the person needs, and send them to the right place. Some communities, such as Whatcom, have multiple entry points, all of which follow the same procedures to get people help.

Bringing a Knowledge of Homeless Youth to the Table

Bardsley says that youth-serving agencies play an important role in planning how coordinated assessment will work. “As the only youth provider in Whatcom County, we’re the loudest ones saying that youth need to be served differently,” she says.

For example, Bardsley advocated for the separate pool for youth, to keep them from having to answer a long list of questions when they walked in the door asking for help. Youth who want to get services from agencies other than Northwest Youth Services can choose to answer the questions, she says, and be entered into the larger pool.

Bardsley says taking part in the communitywide system has enabled her organization to work more closely with its neighbors. “We’re not so siloed,” she says. “New relationships are being built and we’re being forced to work together in different ways.”

More on Coordinated Assessment

From the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

USICH and HUD webinar on coordinated assessment

National Alliance to End Homelessness coordinated assessment toolkit