Access: The TAC Blog
FOR SEVERAL YEARS, TAC consultants have been on a journey with communities to create effective, sound Coordinated Entry (CE) systems and processes that contribute to their larger goal of ending homelessness. As the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) January 23, 2018 deadline for Coordinated Entry compliance nears, we want to share some planning tips that we have seen contribute to creative and efficient systems.
Align Your Local Goals to End Homelessness WITH HUD’s Goals for Coordinated Entry
We often see communities concerned about the compliance aspect of Coordinated Entry, which leads them to direct planning efforts toward the goal of “checking off the boxes” of Coordinated Entry requirements. We challenge communities instead to consider Coordinated Entry a powerful tool in their efforts to end homelessness. HUD promotes some key strategies that really are essential in reducing and ending homelessness, such as ensuring that all processes are as low-barrier as possible, implementing uniform assessment to ensure uniform decision-making across systems, and prioritizing assistance to the most vulnerable. Some planning activities to align your own local goals with the goals of Coordinated Entry might be helpful:
Create a crosswalk between key goals in your local strategic plan to end homelessness and those in HUD’s Coordinated Entry Notice.
Spend some time with your stakeholders envisioning your ideal system for any consumer. Draw on this process to create a list of values that will guide decision-making throughout the CE planning process.
Engage local funders to be part of planning efforts by finding alignment between their goals and your CE goals.
Integrate Change Management Strategies into Planning
Implementing Coordinated Entry is a significant systems change, and will continue to have effects long past a community’s first iteration of CE. It is important to acknowledge the shift that stakeholders will undergo, and to use change management strategies that can strengthen the planning process:
Continually acknowledge the change that is happening. This will start to normalize the process, making the reality of systems change familiar to your stakeholders.
Engage your stakeholders in creating the system, or in problem-solving any challenges that arise. People often respond better to change if they are part of the thought process, rather than having change forced upon them.
Work to create a culture of innovation and “failing forward.” It’s good to make use of reference materials to guide Coordinated Entry planning processes, but the bottom line is that there is no pre-packaged Coordinated Entry system with assembly instructions. Each community must figure out what works given its own local stakeholders, populations, and conditions. A learning culture that celebrates innovation can help to promote new ideas and reduce negative backlash toward methods that were tried but did not succeed. We are seeing this type of culture work well particularly in the development of diversion techniques within Coordinated Entry.
Promote Fidelity to Housing First
The guiding principles of the Housing First philosophy are critical to creating flow through your Coordinated Entry system. Practices such as lowering barriers to housing admission, creating housing pathways and processes with a commitment to referral success, fostering participant choice, prioritizing assistance to the most vulnerable, and terminating participants from housing programs only in the most egregious cases not only create system flow, but also poise communities to improve their success in several of HUD’s system performance measures. To maintain fidelity to Housing First, there are several actions your community can take:
Incorporate consumers into your planning process. Communities have found many ways to infuse consumer voices into planning in a meaningful way. Often the key is to employ several strategies at once: hold multiple seats for consumers on your planning committees and Continuum of Care board; create a consumer advisory body to receive an even more diverse set of viewpoints; hold focus groups with consumers who may not be able to commit to an ongoing committee, but who would like to give input; and compensate consumers for their time.
Continually assess programs’ fidelity to Housing First. Programs may incorporate self-assessments, such as the Housing First Assessment recently released by HUD, to gauge current fidelity and identify areas for improvement. Many communities have also found success in setting up learning collaboratives for both frontline and manager-level program staff to share strategies in implementing a Housing First philosophy.
Get funders trained and engaged in Housing First. At TAC, we have done substantial work with communities’ funders to assist them in aligning their contracts, performance targets, and monitoring processes with the Housing First philosophy. Getting funders on board helps with the promotion of Housing First not only at a program level, but at a systems level.
We are continually impressed by the perseverance we have seen in communities to create Coordinated Entry systems and processes that can drive progress towards ending homelessness. We look forward to continuing to learn alongside you!
DEPENDING ON WHOM YOU ASK, an Olmstead settlement agreement can be a blessing or a curse. While the parties typically agree on the principle affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court — that people with disabilities should live in the most integrated setting possible — costly housing markets and complex service delivery systems are formidable barriers to this goal. More than 15 years after the Supreme Court's landmark Olmstead decision, states still struggle to serve people with disabilities in integrated settings.
Delaware and New Jersey are two states that have recently resolved their Olmstead settlements, achieving significant reforms though years of dedicated effort — Delaware's settlement was originally signed in 2011 with the U.S. Department of Justice, while New Jersey's was signed in 2009 with Disability Rights New Jersey and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Thanks to the successes of these states in substantially attaining the outcomes required by their agreements, thousands of people with serious mental illness now have the opportunity to live in integrated community settings. What is perhaps most impressive is that a substantial part of the system reform accomplished by New Jersey and Delaware occurred during the great recession (2007 to 2009) and the following period of slow economic recovery.
Delaware and New Jersey both offer good examples of what is possible when states focus on community integration for people with mental illness and other disabilities.
A U.S. Department of Justice press release describes some of Delaware’s most significant gains. The state reduced the number of bed days in the Delaware Psychiatric Center by 47.2 percent. The number of Medicaid-eligible Delawareans receiving community-based services has increased by 92 percent since the United States began its investigation. The state has seen the growth of a strong peer and self-advocacy movement that is now incorporated into its entire service system. Two statewide mobile crisis teams and a crisis walk-in center divert 70 to 90 percent of the individuals they engage away from hospitalization and criminal justice interaction and toward community-based services.
As a press release from Bazelon details, New Jersey’s settlement also brought about important changes. Between 2005 and 2016, New Jersey invested nearly $104 million in services and rental assistance for Olmstead-related activities. The state also established a $200 million special needs housing trust fund, and created nearly 1,500 new permanent supportive housing units through capital and rental assistance. New Jersey’s state psychiatric hospital census was reduced by a third, patients’ average length of stay went down, and one state hospital was closed — changes that allowed state hospital operating funds to be reinvested in community supports. New Jersey created a Medicaid benefit to fund community support services for residents of supportive housing, and leveraged additional Medicaid money with investments in community-based services.
Both Delaware and New Jersey used their Olmstead settlement agreements as a driver for change, embracing a community integration platform to guide them toward significant behavioral health system reform. These states recognized that without sustainable system reform and new resources, counting numbers to achieve settlement targets wouldn’t bring about the changes needed to serve people with serious mental illness effectively.
Commitment to Olmstead in a Changing Landscape
Across the country, Olmstead stakeholders are raising questions about the future of community integration for people with serious mental illness and other disabilities. Doubt surrounds the capacity and motivation of states to tackle Olmstead in the years ahead; the commitment of the Department of Justice to focus on Olmstead as strongly as it has in the past; and the ability of protection and advocacy organizations to hold states accountable.
Changes to the Medicaid landscape at the federal level could put at risk the types of benefits coverage that makes community integration work for people with disabilities. Looming cuts to non-mandatory discretionary budgets, such as HUD housing assistance programs, may further jeopardize the ability of states to support community integration.
The Department of Justice has been instrumental in the movement toward community integration, enforcing Olmstead by leading investigations, entering into settlement agreements in several states, and intervening in support of class actions. If the Department shifts its attention to other priorities established by the Trump administration, individuals with serious mental illness and other disabilities will be left without civil rights enforcement at the very time when loss of benefits could place them at greater risk of institutionalization. Many state protection and advocacy agencies, as well as legal services organizations, have the authority to bring class action lawsuits on behalf of people with disabilities, and these groups may be called upon to step up their efforts.
Complying with Olmstead will become increasingly difficult if federal policy and budgetary changes reduce support to states in the near future. Federal cuts currently under consideration would put people with mental illness and other disabilities at greater risk of institutionalization and homelessness due to thinner benefits and services and reductions to the rental assistance that can make housing affordable. Our February blog post on budget impacts explained the challenges states will face in making resources available to meet federal requirements. Nevertheless, it is states that are on the hook to ensure that individuals are served in integrated settings.
Community integration mandates in the Olmstead decision, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are still the law, regardless of fluctuations in federal enforcement and support. Furthermore, serving individuals with disabilities in integrated, community-based settings is good, cost-effective policy. With these facts in mind, states should continue to design and implement Olmstead plans that build sustainable, system-wide improvements. The benefits — to individuals, communities, and all who recognize the value of true integration — are well worth the challenges.