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What is a Coordinated Access System?

June 25, 2018 - 1:09 pm / Blog

In the announcement of Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, Minister Duclos introduced a new federal requirement for the implementation of Coordinated Access Systems. A Coordinated Access System is a community-wide system that streamlines the process for people experiencing homelessness to access housing and supports and is an essential step to smarter, faster, more coordinated housing system. In this blog we briefly describe that these systems are, how they work and provide links for more information.

A Coordinated Access System (CAS), sometimes called a Coordinated Entry System, is an essential element of any effort to prevent and end homelessness. These systems have been in place in the United States for several years and are being implemented in a growing number of Canadian communities. Coordinated access systems are designed to streamline the process for people experiencing homelessness to access the housing and support services needed to permanently end their homelessness.

By standardizing the intake and assessment process, sharing information in real-time within a community, adopting uniform prioritization policies and coordinating referral processes, coordinated access systems connect people to the right housing and supports as efficiently as possible based on their preferences and level of need. This ensures communities get the most out of limited resources and we can more rapidly and effectively prevent and end homelessness for those in greatest need.

A strong coordinated access system follows the principles of housing first and shares real-time data to facilitate the housing process.

There are three key steps to coordinated access:

  1. Access to the System: There should be an established and agreed upon process and structure for intake. This is done by establishing a coordinated process and access points (centralized, decentralized or both). Whichever method is chosen it’s imperative that the outreach and access points can provide full coverage of the community both geographically and by way of ensuring access to supports for all levels of housing and support needs including diversion, prevention, and safety needs such as for those fleeing domestic violence.
  2. Common Assessment and Prioritization: In a CAS, communities establish mechanisms for determining which individuals will be prioritized for access to supports and housing. A healthy CAS is not based on “first come first served”.  Instead, it should include a standardized intake process that includes an assessment tool that provides understanding and insight regarding the strengths and vulnerability of each person. This aids in the system being able to accommodate those with the highest level of need first.
  3. Referral Process: In order to make effective referrals from your CAS it’s important to complete a thorough mapping of services that could be considered touch points for those experiencing any level of homelessness along with documented and approved policies help to match individuals to available and appropriate housing and supports. Vacancies are then filled based on the community’s established prioritization guidelines. The entire system is kept aware of the availability status of housing options and any new resources which keeps everyone on the same page. As with the access portion of the system dynamics, the more formal the linkages of all parties within the system are, the more accountable each party will be and those given charge of it will better be able to monitor CAS performance.

Here are a few other things to think about when building your Coordinated Access System:

  • There has to be a system leader. This management body is ideally a dedicated team positioned and approved by system participants to provide oversight, guidance, monitoring and evaluation and the development of the CAS policies and procedures. They would ensure best practices within the system, and most of all, they work to keep the CAS consistent and in fidelity to the Housing First approach and the established community process. All of this would be done by incorporating feedback from community including persons with lived experience.
  • Real-time data is the heart of the Coordinated Access System. Coordinated Access Systems cannot function without real-time, person specific data. This information allows a community to know every person experiencing homelessness by name, document their needs, prioritize them for housing, and refer them to the housing and supports that best suit their preferences and needs. This data also allows communities to monitor their homeless system performance, notice fluctuations, identify problems and respond in real time. Check out this blog for more information on real-time data and By Name Lists.
  • Data management. Each CAS should have a method for inputting, storing, monitoring, and effectively utilizing data gathered from the system. Ideally, communities would incorporate a form of a Homeless Management Information System as these programs are designed specifically for this work. However, if communities do not have the resources to use this type of program, systems using Excel and other database programs will work.
  • Pick the approach to coordinated access that works for you – Three approaches – each with their own strengths and limitations – are outlined in this blog by Iain DeJong of OrgCode. Iain outlines three models: Descending Acuity, Frequent Service Users and Universal System Management

Want to learn more? Every community will tailor their systems to meet their unique needs, but there is a lot of great information out there to get you started. Here are some great Coordinated Access System resources.  

Need help? Give us a call! If you are one of the 44 communities participating in the 20,000 Homes Campaign help is on the way! If not, please contact our Training and Technical Assistance team and we can hook you up with training and support to develop your own coordinated access system.