Connecting Individuals Experiencing Homelessness to Housing and Supportive Services
Common Cents is Sacramento Steps Forward and the Sacramento Continuum of Care’s approach to solving homelessness for individuals in Sacramento County. It is based on national best practice and is consistent with federal guidelines. Initially funded as a pilot project to address chronic and veteran homelessness, this partnership – spurred by the City of Sacramento and supported by Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health, Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the River District, Wells Fargo, and the California Endowment – has grown into a county-wide effort.
Common Cents will establish a coordinated entry system that will result in functional zero for all populations experiencing homelessness by the end of 2020. Functional zero is defined operationally: all populations seeking shelter will be accommodated within Sacramento’s homeless system, instead of waiting for placement on the streets. Common Cents currently focuses on chronically homeless individuals and veterans in Sacramento County, however, it will expand to encompass all people experiencing homelessness.
Common Cents consists of the following elements:
Homeless outreach navigators work directly with individuals experiencing In addition, outreach teams collaborate and share expertise and information to ensure that each client is
receiving the services they need and being assisted toward housing.
Coordinated entry relies on common assessment, prioritization based on vulnerability, and matching individuals with the appropriate housing and services. Individuals are assessed using a common assessment tool, regardless of the agency or organization. This results in a uniform, comprehensive overview of the needs of the individual.The CoC uses the VI-SPDAT (Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool). Agencies receiving federal funds as part of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Continuum of Care Program participate in coordinated entry, as do other organizations who provide homeless services in Sacramento County.
Full participation in coordinated entry allows Sacramento to develop a robust, accurate picture of the population of people experiencing homelessness in the county, and to quickly adapt programs and add capacity to address each population, and end homelessness more quickly.
SSF has implemented common assessment tools for families as well, ensuring that all people experiencing homelessness undergo a common assessment and receive services matched to their specific needs.
- Prioritization – Each individual interviewed is assessed using this tool, which results in an individually tailored housing and services match. Those with more intense service and housing needs are prioritized within the Continuum of Care according to Housing First principles; individuals with the greatest need for housing have priority access to housing, regardless of their behavioral health needs, substance use, pets, etc.
This is consistent with federal guidelines, ensures that our most vulnerable residents are receiving these limited resources, and also saves the community money – because highly vulnerable individuals are often the most frequent users of crisis services, emergency departments, and public health and safety agencies. Permanent housing significantly reduces these costs.
- Matching – Service providers within the Continuum of Care have aligned their programs with the VI-SPDAT, to ensure the best match of housing and services for each individual experiencing homelessness. We employ a Housing First model across the continuum, ensuring that barriers such as substance use, couples, and pets, do not prevent individuals from accessing housing.
Data Collection and Analysis
The data generated through coordinated entry provides Sacramento Steps Forward with critical insights into the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in Sacramento, program cost-effectiveness, system- and program-level efficiency, and system gaps. This data helps inform program changes and system level investments needed to end street homelessness as quickly as possible.
A right-sized system will have enough capacity and the right kinds of programs and services
– things like mental health care, emergency shelter, permanent housing, rental assistance, and employment services -to ensure that when an individual or family becomes homeless, they have a place to go immediately. To right size the system, agencies may need to adapt programs, or the community may need to find more permanent housing.
Ideally, our community will be able to prevent homelessness, not merely react to its occurrence. Many individuals and families may be able to avoid homelessness with some support, such as help avoiding evictions or connections to public assistance benefits. By 2020, Sacramento Steps Forward will partner with organizations in the community to build a diversion system to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place, whenever possible.
Since beginning in January 2015, Common Cents navigators have contacted over 1,200 individuals and referred over 200 to shelter and housing through coordinated entry. At the same time, the Continuum of Care as a whole has placed over 3,200 clients. You can track the CoC-wide effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 here.
SSF recently completed a full report on the first 10 months of Common Cents implementation.
Currently, SSF and the CoC are reviewing data collected as a result of outreach and a robust system-level analysis to determine how best to adapt programs and services to increase system efficiency. Once this analysis is complete, SSF will issue recommendations for addressing shortcomings in the existing system. These recommendations may include the need for a triage center, additional permanent supportive and rapid rehousing, and other program needs.