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Coordinated Access Systems (CAS) are a way for cities or towns to design, streamline and bring consistency to the process by which people experiencing homelessness access housing and services. A strong CAS uses a housing first approach along with a standardised and coordinated process for access, assessment, prioritisation and referral for housing and other services across all the agencies and organisations providing these things in a local area. A Coordinated Access System also allows cities or communities to establish partnerships between funders, service providers and the private sector to provide coordinated services that yield tangible and positive results for people experiencing homelessness.

Developing an effective system requires real engagement with relevant stakeholders in your area. In the most successful cities, stakeholders design the local system together to achieve a shared goal, such as ending street homelessness. While this process may be challenging and time-intensive, no Coordinated Access System can help sustain reductions in homelessness without strong buy-in from local stakeholders.

The table below uses four common issues to illustrate some of the ways a strong Coordinated Access System can shift a community’s approach to ending homelessness:

Uncoordinated System Coordinated System
Access in an Uncoordinated System Access in a Coordinated System
No coordinated outreach or access points Fully coordinated outreach and access points
Assessment in an Uncoordinated System Assessment in a Coordinated System
Each programme or service provider has own assessment One city-wide initial assessment
Each programme or service provider keeps list of clients and its own data on clients One city-wide By Name List with data on each client as he/she moves throughout the system
Prioritisation in an Uncoordinated System Prioritisation in a Coordinated System
No way of prioritising clients, or priority given on a “first-come, first served” basis Community-wide prioritisation protocol based on highest level of need, best fit and the community’s other priorities
Some programmes use a housing first approach The entire system uses a housing first approach
Referral in an Uncoordinated System Referral in a Coordinated System
Every permanent housing programme has its own application One community-wide application for housing (and rapid rehousing)
Funding conditions reinforce working in silos and competition amongst providers Funding reinforces a coordinated system and collaboration or integration amongst providers
Programme-centric view of addressing homelessness Client & system-centred view of ending homelessness
My clients/my resources Our clients/our resources


Useful Links

 In-Depth Technical Information

By Name Lists (BNLs) – By Name Lists (BNLs) are real-time lists of all people experiencing homelessness in your city or area and also allow you to understand inflow into homelessness and outflow from homelessness.

Housing First Europe Guide – Housing First is a set of principles and practices designed for people experiencing homelessness who have significant barriers to obtaining and retaining permanent housing and sees permanent housing as the foundation (first step) in working with individuals.

Templates and Forms

9.1 Coordinated Access System Draft Scorecard for Europe – Based on Community Solution’s work in the United States and Canada, this outlines the core components of a Coordinated Access System. By using this scorecard, a city can establish a baseline and then track its progress over time in developing a truly coordinated homeless system. You can also help us to identify where further development of the European scorecard may be needed.  This draft will need further refinement based on testing in European cities and communities, and we welcome and encourage you to share your feedback with us as you try it out.

Real-Life Examples – The following examples from the United States and Canada describe in more detail some of the critical components of a Coordinated Access System. These examples highlight key challenges a city or community will very likely need to tackle. Many examples contain contact information for the communities who created them, and we encourage you to get in touch with them directly to learn more about their work.

Access in a Coordinated System

9.2 Ensuring Full Outreach Coverage, Washington, DC – This document outlines how Washington, DC helped ensure full geographic coverage for its street outreach programmes. This is important because it ensures a Coordinated Access System does not miss anyone experiencing homelessness.

Assessment in a Coordinated System

In a well-coordinated system, all providers agree to use a single common assessment. During the pilot phase of the European End Street Homelessness Campaign, cities used the Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritisation Decision Assistance Pre-screen Tool (VI-SPDAT). While the choice of assessment is best left to each city, the critical point here is that all providers within a city agree to use the same one.  In addition, to help ensure that they are able to track common challenges and differences amongst European cities, the European Campaign worked with pilot cities to develop a list of common data fields that cities would incorporate into whichever assessment they chose. These are currently included in the VI-SPDAT (7.2 European Campaign template VI-SPDAT) under questions A1 and Demographic Information questions 27-32.

Prioritisation in a Coordinated System

Sample Prioritisation Policies – A core component of a Coordinated Access System is prioritising certain people experiencing homelessness to benefit from a city’s limited resources. By moving beyond a “first come, first served” approach, cities can decrease the size of their homeless populations and optimise the resources they have. The following are prioritisation examples from the United States and Canada.

9.3 Washtenaw County (Michigan, U.S.) Prioritisation Protocol

9.4 Waterloo Region (Ontario, Canada) Prioritisation Protocol

9.5 Community Wide Housing First, Houston (Texas, US) – While many cities have examples of housing first programmes, how can they orient their entire systems around a housing first approach?  This example provides a snapshot of how one city in Texas moved the entire community toward embracing housing first.

Referral in a Coordinated System

9.6 Coordinated Entry System Policy and Procedure Manual, Hennepin County (Minnesota, US) – a robust Coordinated Access System requires a city or town to adopt standardised policies and procedures.  This example from Minnesota provides sample policies that can be adapted for use.

Sample ‘Releases of Information’ (Data Consent Form) – A robust Coordinated Access System requires providers to be able to share individual-level information to better serve people experiencing homelessness. Multiple providers should develop a shared data consent form to ensure it follows local laws and meets each agency’s needs. Confidentiality and data protections laws vary significantly by country, and you should seek out local experts before drafting your shared form for multiple organisations to use together. This example from the United States can help you identify the types of issues that often come up for cities and communities. 9.7 Metro Denver (Colorado, US) ROI – 1-16

Thank you to Community Solutions for use/adaptation of source materials within this toolkit.  Thank you to the campaign communities in Canada and the US for sharing their materials.

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