Wenatchee World

New system to streamline homeless services

Story published in The Wenatchee World July 10, 2015.

WENATCHEE — The city of Wenatchee and homelessness organizations are about to launch a system to streamline services for homeless people.

The system is expected to be running by the end of August.

Officially called coordinated entry, it is intended to make it more likely for families to be served by the right organization more quickly, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

More than 400 people in Chelan and Douglas counties were deemed homeless in a January report from the state Department of Commerce.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandated coordinated homeless entry systems across the nation. In 2012, the Department of Commerce made it a grant requirement. More than 19,000 people are considered homeless in Washington.

The local system has been planned by the city and a homelessness task force in the last year. A little more than $1.25 million in grants was awarded to the city for homeless funding and $55,000 of it will go to coordinated entry this year.

Most of the $1.25 million comes from Chelan and Douglas county real estate transaction fees and state homeless grants, said Steve King, the city of Wenatchee’s community and economic development director. None of the funding comes directly from the city.

Seven homeless service organizations will receive grant money for coordinated entry, mostly for staff salaries, said Sandra Van Osten, grants program coordinator for the city.

The largest amount of coordinated entry funding — $15,166 — goes to Catholic Family and Child Services, which will operate a coordinated phone hotline and serve as a site location for a homeless person to be put in touch with the right resources.

These organizations will also receive funding as a coordinated entry site location:

  • Community Action Council: $10,430
  • Women’s Resource Center: $6,965
  • YWCA: $6,965
  • SAGE: $3,500
  • Upper Valley Mend: $3,500
  • Chelan Valley HOPE: $3,500

The amounts are based on how busy the Wenatchee Homeless Steering Committee predicts the organizations will be and the location of the office, Van Osten said.

Wenatchee City Council members approved the contracts in April. The contracts last through 2015, and amounts could fluctuate based on the data and number of users at each location, Van Osten said.

A little less than $5,000 of the coordinated entry budget will pay for city staff salaries, supplies, and meeting expenses.

Coordinated entry will provide the seven agencies with “data-sharing” and a customized, computer-based intake form, King said.

Right now, if you go to a homeless center, they have all their own intake services,” Van Osten said.

Under the new system, when a homeless person requests services at one of those locations, the information provided at the time of intake is put in a Department of Commerce computer system called the Homeless Management Information System, referred to as HMIS.

If homeless people call the hotline or go to one of the locations participating, they can still be referred to a local organization that’s not part of the alliance, Van Osten said.

The new system will also help organizations prioritize resources to people who are determined the most vulnerable, King said.

All homeless service-providing organizations in the region were offered the opportunity to participate in the alliance, but some choose not to, Van Osten said. Those organizations have different philosophies on providing such services and collecting personal information. City grants require that type of information to be collected from clients, she said.

Homeless people who request services from one of the locations can opt to not provide their contact information, but still receive services, King and Van Osten said. In that case, they would be counted in the system but recorded as anonymous.

The digital intake form for the HMIS has yet to be completed by the Department of Commerce, Van Osten said. The department has told the city it will be done in a couple of weeks.

A brief testing period will be followed by getting agencies up and running on the new system. The organizations will spend up to two weeks using a soft launch of the system.

By the end of August, the region is set to be fully functional using a coordinated entry phone line and HMIS.