Stemming the tide of homelessness takes unique thinking, system-wide coordination and a community working as one.
The homelessness prevention and support system is fluid.
It has more moving parts than the space shuttle and, because human beings drive the engine, the variables are incalculable. Ask any shelter provider and they will attest to this fact. On the front lines, when you have a family in front of you that is sleeping in their car, that necessity becomes paramount. Is there a way to fit the disparate pieces of the puzzles together and build greater efficiency? Yes.
It’s called Coordinated Access.
The brainchild of the Greater Seacoast Coalition on Homelessness, an initiative kickstarted and funded by United Way of the Greater Seacoast, Coordinated Access provides a game-changing approach to better serving the homeless while at the same time improving efficiency in the field.
“The goal is to see what we can do as a system to improve,” said Maria Sillari, Project Director of the Greater Seacoast Coalition on Homelessness . “We want to strengthen the coordination of services, reduce duplication, and leverage existing capacity. As we get better data we can measure success and see where there are still gaps in services.”
So what is Coordinated Access? It’s one person with a phone. Operating out of the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County in Dover, that person, the Coordinated Access Specialist, becomes the primary point person for referrals and placements, performs an assessment over the phone, provides resources when appropriate and, if necessary connect the client with a shelter. And that phone becomes a lifeline.
Goal 1, of course, is to prevent homelessness, which makes the one-on-one conversations so critical; perhaps there are community programs or supports that can belie the need to leave their current housing.
“We’re trying to make it easier for the person experiencing or at risk of homelessness,” says Maria. “We want to get them the right services at the right time.”
Every person is different. Every situation is different. Shelters are constantly in flux with their space, but through Coordinated Access, one person has the lay of the land and, if the circumstances do in fact call for it, can find the right place for the person.
“Our beds are our resource and they are limited,” said Martha Stone, Executive Director of Cross Roads House in Portsmouth. “Coordinated Access becomes a real value-add for us.”
She continues: “Before Coordinated Access, our shelter beds would be allocated to the first person who walked through that door. But that person may not have been the most vulnerable at that time. With calls and referrals going through Coordinated Access, the questions are being asked to ensure that those who need the beds the most urgently are getting them.”
In its first year of existence Coordinated Access fielded 1,429 calls from Rockingham and Strafford Counties, Kittery and Eliot, Maine and through New Hampshire and elsewhere. Each one of those calls represented a person faced with the daunting reality of possible homelessness; each one of those conversations offered hope.
“We know it’s making a difference,” says Maria. “We are seeing things happening now that are happening because of Coordinated Access.”