Nick is a young veteran who returned home from the military with a traumatic brain injury. Struggling to adjust to civilian life, he soon became homeless. From time to time, service providers in both Weld and Larimer counties would see Nick and try to help him, but he had difficulty remembering things and following through. Without a phone number or address, providers would fall out of contact with him, and then later he would resurface.
The challenge of housing instability and homelessness is growing in northern Colorado, and will likely continue to worsen as the population grows. Historically, each northern Colorado homeless-serving agency has implemented its admission criteria and processes individually, which were usually focused on identifying the people it perceived to be most likely to succeed in their agency’s program. This approach meant that people in a housing crisis often had to find help on their own, without knowing which programs they were eligible for or which projects were appropriate for their situation.
Once people were on a project’s waiting list, they were usually served on a first-come, first-served basis without regard to their level of vulnerability. As a result, some program participants received assistance that was more extensive than they needed, some participants received less assistance than they needed, and many people, often those with the highest needs, received no assistance at all because they were screened out by exclusionary admission criteria set by the homeless serving agency.
The Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement System (CAHPS) acknowledges that very few agencies are able to identify, assess, and assist people experiencing homelessness as well as to find permanent housing, help people move in, and support them to remain housed. The Northern Colorado CAHPS is a collaborative effort amongst homeless serving providers with three components:
Assess – Through street outreach, discharge planning with hospitals and corrections, and the provisions of overnight shelter and housing services, providers discover and assess people who are experiencing homelessness. Each household is assessed using a standardized assessment which generates a personal vulnerability score.
Assist – After the assessment is completed, households are included in a by-name list of those experiencing homelessness. Those with the greatest vulnerability are prioritized for housing as they are the most likely to die from living as homeless. Case managers continue working with those on the by-name list to meet their ongoing needs so that they will more likely survive homelessness. Through case conferencing between agencies, resources are identified and, as quickly as possible, housing is offered to those at the top of the by-name list.
Assign – As housing matches are made, case managers and other agency employees and volunteers assist CAHPS participants to move into and maintain housing.
“By combining coordinated system entry with a single process for accessing housing, people experiencing homelessness are served by the best agency and service in the most efficient manner. This saves time and money for participating organizations; it also houses people more quickly and better helps them keep housing. More people housed saves local governments money through fewer law enforcement contacts, a better business environment, and more. With CAHPS we all win.”Melanie Woolman, Vice President of Community Impact, United Way of Weld County