In 2011, HUD mandated that CoCs establish and operate a coordinated assessment system. As HUD’s Ann Oliva describes in a July 2013 email to CoCs:
Coordinated assessment is a powerful tool designed to ensure that homeless persons are matched with the right intervention, among all of the interventions available in the CoC, as quickly as possible. It standardizes the access and assessment process for all clients and coordinates referrals across all providers in the CoC. When providers intake and assess clients using the same process, and when referrals are conducted with an understanding of all programs, including their offered services and bed availability, participants can be served with the most appropriate intervention and not with a “first come, first served” approach.
CoCs around the nation have struggled with this requirement, and the western Massachusetts CoCs have not yet initiated coordinated assessment. There are many barriers to compliance–the existence of multiple funding sources (each of which may prefer its own tool), a need to identify an effective assessment tool that does what Ann Oliva describes, and a desire for agreement on a tool among impacted agencies. In Massachusetts, there is also such a strong separation between the individual and family service systems, and the lack of local control over the family system, that it seems impossible for a CoC to mandate coordinated assessment for families.
Locally, we have recognized that the place where we can work on coordinated assessment is in the individual services system. Over the last several months, our Network’s Individual Services Committee has been examining a particular tool that has been adopted as part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign and is used by more than 200 communities across three countries. Recently, the state of Michigan has begun using the tool across state agencies and in all CoCs. The 100,000 Homes Campaign provides a description of the development and testing of the tool.
The Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization Decision Tool (VI-SPDAT) is an evidence-based, street-use-informed tool that is designed to help providers determine the most appropriate housing intervention for a particular individual or family. There are two tools–the Individual VI-SPDAT and the Family VI-SPDAT. (A note for those who dig further: these tools are also referred to as prescreen tools. It’s a bit confusing because there is also a related case management tool called the SPDAT, which is not the same thing.)
At the March Individual Services Committee, Hampden County providers expressed willingness to try the tool, and since that time, Dave Christopolis (Three County CoC Administrator) and I have talked to one of the creators of the tools, Org Code Consulting‘s Iain DeJong. We have learned that the tools are available at no cost, and there is basic training in using the tools on the Org Code website (scroll to the bottom for training videos).
The City of Springfield has now decided to begin trying out the tool. The City recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, which includes the requirement that providers who use ESG funds to provide rapid rehousing for individuals will be required to use the VI-SPDAT as the assessment tool for this program. The Hampden County CoC will consider at its next meeting (in June) whether CoC-funded PSH providers must also use the tool. My hope is that we will increase use of the tool from there.
While there is basic online training in use of the tools available, the City is working toward providing in-person training that would be available to all western Massachusetts providers who are interested. Stay tuned!