A Brief History: Funding Homeless Services

In 1987, Congress passed the first federal law specifically addressing homelessness. The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, later renamed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, provides federal financial support for a variety of programs to meet the many needs of individuals and families who are homeless. The housing programs it authorizes are administered by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs.

Initially, HUD did not impose any requirements for systemic planning at the local level.  However, beginning in 1994 HUD has required each community to come together to submit a single comprehensive Continuum of Care (CoC) application rather than allowing applications from individual providers in a community. HUD’s intent in creating this structured application process was to stimulate community-wide planning and coordination of programs for individuals and families who are homeless.

As an entity, a CoC serves two main purposes:

  • To develop a long-term strategic plan and manage a year-round planning effort that addresses the identified needs of homeless individuals and households. It also evaluates the availability and accessibility of existing housing and services, and locates the opportunities for linkages with mainstream housing and services resources.
  • To prepare an application for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento) competitive grant.

Funds are made available through a national competition announced each year in HUD’s Notice of Funding Availability (HUD NOFA). Applications must demonstrate broad community participation and identify resources and gaps in the community’s approach to providing outreach, emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing as well as related services for addressing homelessness. Perhaps most importantly, the applications must include action steps to end homelessness, prevent a return to homelessness, and establish local funding priorities.

Originally, under the McKinney-Vento Act the Continuum of Care (CoC) was a local network that planned and coordinated funding for services and housing to assist homeless individuals and families. With the enactment of the HEARTH Act in 2009, the CoC is now an entity that implements the HUD CoC Program and includes all who choose to participate and are concerned with and/or are providing services to individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness.

The HUD CoC program is designed to:

  • Promote a community-wide commitment to the goals of ending homelessness
  • Provide funding for efforts to rapidly re-house individuals and families
  • Promote access to, and effective use of, mainstream programs
  • Optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness

The NorCal Continuum of Care was established in 2002 to enhance and empower local community participation in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act funding. In the summer of 2015, the NorCal CoC accepted six new counties into the Continuum: Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Siskiyou, Modoc and Del Norte.

Vision for Success

CoC envisions a homeless response system that uses our resources as effectively as possible, quickly connecting our neighbors to the services they need to regain and retain housing or never become homeless in the first place. By solving homelessness, we will meaningfully improve the quality of life and wellbeing of everyone in our region.

Building a Robust System

The CoC recognizes that homelessness is first and foremost a housing issue, requiring housing accompanied by the services and supports necessary to support people in stable housing. The CoC implements housing-related interventions that must be adequately implemented across the region in order to appropriately impact the scope of the problem.

  • Build and maintain a community-based process that supports the CoC’s homeless persons
  • Engage in planning and evaluation to maximize the use of existing resources
  • Work collaboratively with other agencies/providers throughout the region
  • Institute a long-term approach to solving homelessness
  • Increase Permanent Supportive Housing Availability
  • Increase Rapid Re-Housing Assistance
  • Recruit and engage landlords in solving homelessness
  • Implement a Coordinated Entry Process, inclusive of HMIS, that demonstrates a community-wide system for accessing homeless services

Activities of the CoC

The CoC’s activities are targeted to:

  • Annual re-applications for funding of homeless programs and services
  • Identification and advocacy for the needs of people who are homeless in our region
  • Facilitation of the development of a continuum of care including housing and services for the homeless
  • Development of short and long-term plans to mitigate homelessness in the region
  • Recommend funding priorities to HUD for new and renewal projects

Homeless Management Information System

Why is data tracking important?

The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is a local electronic technology system used to collect characteristics, client-level data and service needs information of individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. The program collects mandated data as a requisite to receiving HUD funds to address homelessness.

Every January, the CoC leads the seven communities in conducting a Point in Time (PIT) Count of individuals experiencing homelessness; this effort helps to determine the number of homeless in the region. Hundreds of volunteers hit the streets for one night in January throughout the region to speak with individuals experiencing homeless to gather demographic data, household composition and other pertinent information. These counts are crucial to ensuring proper funding is available for homeless service provision. Although these counts capture many persons that are experiencing homelessness, using HMIS helps to provide us with an accurate and more consistent representation off our region’s homeless population. All ESG and CoC funded agencies are required to participate in HMIS and coordinated entry. Several of the homeless providers in the region are using HMIS and we are aggressively working to add new partner agencies all of the time.

Additionally, HMIS is used to evaluate the effectiveness of homeless programs.

Currently, the CoC is using ServicePoint as our HMIS software system. With this innovative system, we are better able to enhance care coordination and eliminate program and project silos by maintaining a single client record across organizations and seamlessly share data in real time. The system is also HUD compliant with system reporting requirements.

Coordinated Entry Process

Coordinated Entry is Critical to Solving the Issue of Homelessness

A Coordinated Entry Process is a critical component to the community’s effort to prevent and end homelessness. A coordinated entry process streamlines access for people to receive services, identifies and assesses their needs, and makes prioritization decisions based on those needs.

The goals of the Coordinated Entry Process are that assistance is allocated as effectively as possible and that it be easily accessible no matter where or how people present. Coordinated entry processes help the community to prioritize assistance based on vulnerability and severity of service needs to ensure that people who need assistance the most can receive it in a timely manner. Coordinated entry processes also provide information about service needs and gaps to help communities plan their assistance and identify needed resources.

An effective Coordinated Entry process has the following qualities:

Prioritization: Ensures that people with the greatest needs receive priority for any type of housing and homeless assistance available in the CoC, including Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), Rapid Rehousing (RRH) and other interventions

Low Barrier: The process does not screen out people for assistance because of perceived barriers to housing or services, including: lack of employment or income, alcohol or drug use or having a criminal record. In addition, housing and homelessness programs lower their screening barriers in partnership with the coordinated entry process

Housing First Orientation: The coordinated entry process is Housing First oriented, such that people are housed quickly without preconditions or service participation requirements

Person-Centered: The coordinated entry process incorporates participant choice, which may be facilitated by questions in the assessment tool or through other methods. Choice can include location and type of housing, level of services, and other options about which households can participate in decisions

Fair and Equal Access: All people in the CoC’s geographic area have fair and equal access to the coordinated entry process, regardless of where or how they present for services. Fair and equal access means that people can easily access the coordinated entry process, whether in person, by phone, or some other method, and that the process for accessing help is well known. Marketing strategies may include direct outreach to people on the street and other service sites, informational flyers left at service sites and public locations, announcements during CoC or other coalition meetings, and educating mainstream service providers. If the entry point includes one or more physical locations, they are accessible to people with disabilities, and easily accessible by public transportation, or there is another method, e.g., toll-free or 211 phone number, by which people can easily access them. The coordinated entry process is able to serve people who speak languages commonly spoken in the community.

Emergency Services: The coordinated entry process does not delay access to emergency services such as shelter. The process includes a manner for people to access emergency services at all hours, independent of the operating hours of the coordinated entry intake and assessment processes. For example, people who need emergency shelter at night are able to access shelter, to the extent that shelter is available, and then receive an assessment in the days that follow, even if the shelter is the access point to the coordinated entry process.

Standardized Access and Assessment: All coordinated entry locations and methods (phone, in-person, online, etc.) offer the same assessment approach and referrals using uniform decision-making processes. A person presenting at a particular coordinated entry location is not steered towards any particular program or provider simply because they presented at that location.

Inclusive: A coordinated entry process includes all subpopulations, including people experiencing chronic homelessness, Veterans, families, youth, and survivors of domestic violence. However, CoC’s may have different processes for accessing coordinated entry, including different access points and assessment tools for the following different populations: (1) adults without children, (2) adults accompanied by children, (3) unaccompanied youth, or (4) households fleeing domestic violence. These are the only groups for which different access points are used. For example, there is not a separate coordinated entry process for people with mental illness or addictions, although the systems addressing those disabilities may serve as referral sources into the process. The CoC continuously evaluates and improves the process ensuring that all subpopulations are well served.

Continuum of Care Competition

2018 Continuum of Care Funding Competition

On June 20, 2018, HUD announced the publication of the FY 2018 Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Competition Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), making available approximately $2.1 billion in FY 2018 for the CoC Program. The CoC Program is a HUD administered program designed to promote a community-wide commitment to the goals of ending homelessness and provides funding for efforts by nonprofit providers, States, and local governments to quickly re-house individuals and families experiencing homelessness.  New in the 2018 NOFA process is a dedication of $50 million available for Domestic Violence Bonus Projects; this CoC has $50,000 available for a DV Bonus Project.  As of June 28th, the FY 2018 CoC Consolidated Application and project applications are available in e-snaps.

The submission deadline is Tuesday, September 18, 2018 at 5:00 PM PDT.

Listed below are a number of highlights and special considerations for the FY 2018 competition. More information can be found on HUD’s FY 2018 CoC Program Competition: Funding Availability Page.

Tier 1 is 94 percent of the CoC’s Annual Renewal Demand (ARD) amount. HUD has posted the Estimated ARD Report, which includes each CoC’s Preliminary Pro Rata Need (PPRN), estimated ARD, CoC Planning, and Permanent Housing Bonus amounts.

Tier 2 project-level scoring has been revised to include only three criteria – CoC Application score, ranked position of the project application in Tier 2, and the project application’s commitment to Housing First. The type of project has been removed.

The amount available for the Permanent Housing Bonus is 6 percent of the CoC’s Final Pro Rata Need (FPRN).

Renewal project applicants may submit their renewal project applications with no changes.

Communities can now apply for a new type of project that combines the activities of a transitional housing project with those of a rapid re-housing project.

HUD has made several changes to the eligibility requirements for permanent housing, permanent supportive housing, and rapid rehousing.

The local ranking process continues to be crucial to making the CoC Program as effective as possible. HUD’s Optional Rating and Ranking Tool for the CoC Program Competition should help CoC’s enhance their local competitions.

System Performance Measurement information will be largely scored on data submitted by the CoC to the Homelessness Data Exchange (HDX). HUD’s new “CoC Competition Report” in the HDX for each CoC includes the majority of the data needed to complete the competition’s application.

Point in Time & Housing Inventory

Point in Time Count (PIT) and Housing Inventory Count (HIC)

Point in Time Count
The Point in Time (PIT) count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night during the last ten days of January. HUD requires that Continuums of Care conduct an annual count of homeless persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing and safe havens on a single night. CoC’s must also conduct a count of unsheltered homeless persons every other year, although the NorCal CoC conducts both a shelter and unsheltered count every year. Each count is planned, coordinated and carried out locally.

Basics of the Count
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program conduct a count of all sheltered people in the last week of January annually. Electronic administrative records are used to enumerate people living in emergency shelters and transitional housing. Unsheltered counts are required every other year, although most communities conduct an unsheltered count annually. In an unsheltered counting effort, outreach workers and volunteers are organized to canvas Continuums of Care to enumerate the people who appear to be living in places not meant for human habitation.
During these point-in-time counts, communities are required to identify whether a person is an individual, a member of a family unit, or an unaccompanied youth under the age of 18 or age 18 to 24. In addition, communities must identify if a person is chronically homeless, indicating long-time or repeated homelessness and the presence of a disability.

Why do we Count?
Point-in-time counts are important because they establish the dimensions of the problem of homelessness and help policymakers and program administrators track progress toward the goal of ending homelessness. The first of these counts was conducted in January 2005 (nationally) meaning that we have data for every CoC for the last ten years. Collecting data on homelessness and tracking progress can inform public opinion, increase public awareness, and attract resources that will lead to the eradication of the problem. If homeless youth are not included in local point-in-time counts, their needs could be under-represented as governments, nonprofits, and key stakeholders at the federal, state, and local level plan to respond to the problem.

HUD uses information from the local point-in-time counts, among other data sources, in the congressionally-mandated Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR). This report is meant to inform Congress about the number of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. and the effectiveness of HUD’s programs and policies in decreasing those numbers.
On the local level, point-in-time counts help communities plan services and programs to appropriately address local needs, measure progress in decreasing homelessness, and identify strengths and gaps in a community’s current homelessness assistance system.
The point-in-time counts are not without limitations. There is variation in count methodology year-to-year within and across communities. Unsheltered counts have more limitations than sheltered counts and there is more variation in methodology. Point-in-time counts are, however, the only measure that enumerates people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in addition to those who are sheltered. And, despite its flaws, the annual point-in-time counts result in the most reliable estimate of people experiencing homelessness in the United States from which progress can be measured.

Counting Youth
One gap that exists in these point-in-time counts is the coverage of unaccompanied youth (or those living separately from any family members) under the age of 24. Despite the fact that point-in-time counts are required to collect the number of unaccompanied youth under the age of 18, those numbers do not appear accurate, with many CoC’s reporting that there are zero unaccompanied youth in their communities. Youth may be afraid or unwilling to enter individual shelters and communities typically have scarce resources, beds, and units dedicated to youth. This means that, in most communities, the required count of sheltered youth is more likely a count of beds available to youth as opposed to the number of youth who need shelter.

Even further complications arise in trying to identify the number of youth who are unsheltered. Youth are often not engaged with traditional homelessness assistance programs and congregate in different areas than older individuals experiencing homelessness. This makes unsheltered youth harder to find and therefore to count.

Without adequate coverage of homeless youth in point-in-time counts, there is a danger that they will continue to be underserved.

Housing Inventory Count (HIC)
The NorCal Continuum of Care Housing Inventory Count (HIC) is a point in time inventory of the service projects dedicated to serving homeless and formerly homeless persons.

It is a requirement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is used in the annual application process to determine Federal funding for homeless services throughout the country. The data is also used to produce the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR). Link to the AHAR Reports: https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/hdx/guides/ahar/#reports

What we Count in the HIC

  • Shelter programs for currently homeless people
  • Emergency Shelter, Transitional Housing and Safe Havens
  • Persons in these programs are counted toward the Point in Time Count of homeless persons
  • For Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Rehousing programs, we count the housing, but the formerly homeless persons in the housing are not counted toward the Point in Time Count

Beds that we Count

  • All year-round beds/units should be counted
  • All seasonal beds should be counted
  • All voucher beds/units should be counted
  • All overflow beds/units should be counted

Beds/units recorded on the HIC are organized into five Program Types:

  • Emergency Shelter: Total number of shelter beds and units.
  • Transitional Housing: Total number of transitional beds and units.
  • Rapid Rehousing: Total number of rapid rehousing beds and units.
  • Safe Haven: Total number of Safe Haven beds and units that satisfy HUD’s standards.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing: Total number of permanent supportive beds and units.
  • All beds/units included on the HIC must be recognized as part of the formal homeless system.

Point in Time and Housing Inventory Count Guides