SALT LAKE CITY — A detailed breakdown of how Salt Lake County officials plan to implement a "critical" communication strategy among service providers for people experiencing homelessness was released for the first time Tuesday.
The plan from the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office to overhaul how the homeless delivery system works was laid out for the County Council. In addition to building three new homeless resource centers, the plan calls for redesigning the system's responsiveness from the inside out.
“Understandably, people are so focused on the homeless resource centers, and that’s not really what’s going to change the system," Alyson Heyrend, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, told the Deseret News. "It’s this type of planning and this type of work that’s going to change it.”
One of the long-stated goals of the interagency Collective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee is to help service providers begin communicating seamlessly about clients' needs.
To do that, those providers must have adequate training, technology and databases to interact with any vulnerable person seeking help, and either provide them the needed service or proactively connect them with another organization, said Shaeleane Gee, the county's special projects manager.
“We’re switching from a shelter or facility-based system to a services, client-based system. So when you're assessed for what your needs are as you’re about to become homeless or you’re in a crisis, we’re assessing where you need to go, what resource center is appropriate and how you’re going to get there," Gee said.
"Instead of asking everyone to go into one facility and try to figure it out, we’re trying to open up the doors so people can go to a range of places for help,” she said.
Gee on Tuesday presented the County Council with a breakdown of plans to use $255,000 in appropriated funds to implement the technology and training to make more sophisticated coordination between providers a reality. That upgraded technology has been termed the Coordinated Entry System.
“It’s at the heart of our collective efforts. It’s now at the heart of state funding,” she said. “It’s the way we were going to not only improve our homeless and housing service system, but to better integrate it with other systems at the county — such as health care, behavioral health care, and public education services.”
Funds for the new system were appropriated into the county's budget last fall, but a breakdown of how they would be used wasn't available at the time. The mayor's office has said the new system, intended to be installed in advance of the physical completion of three new resource centers in June 2019, will focus on enabling service providers to quickly and efficiently redirect homeless or nearly homeless clients to the appropriate help.
Gee and McAdams say the Coordinated Entry System is even more fundamental to the overhaul of the county's homelessness system than the homeless resources centers' locations, which have been the attention of much hand-wringing from some residents and elected officials.
“We’re starting to change what the system looks like and how it operates today, so that when June of 2019 comes, we have already transitioned the entire homeless service system to the new model,” McAdams said.
Earlier this month, county officials said they're committed to permanently pulling all families out of the Road Home and placing them in supportive housing by July — another major component of transitioning to the new model.
The new system will help homeless or nearly homeless people avoid becoming hopeless about their situation and lapsing into intermediate-term or chronic homelessness, Gee said. The system has long been thought of as "critical" to rethinking how the county views homelessness, she said.
Such a model would ensure that there is "no wrong door" for a vulnerable person or family to turn to, according to McAdams. That goal of clients having "no wrong door" was listed as one of 14 objectives identified by the Collective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee in 2015.
Under the current system, a disadvantaged person could be turned away from a service provider that is a bad fit — with little guidance on where they can go, Gee said.
In the new model, a person's vulnerability profile can be thoroughly compiled, their most pressing needs categorized, and someone can immediately pinpoint who can help them and how they can get to where they need to go, she said.
According to the breakdown Gee provided, about $50,000 of the appropriated funds will be dedicated to training human services providers throughout the county to use fully integrated client data. Another $50,000 is dedicated to a six-month implementation phase, ending in January 2018, when providers must demonstrate they are capable of fully participating in the Coordinated Entry System.
“We’re asking every (provider) to participate in that system, and we're going to require it,” Gee said.
About $75,000 will be allocated to the cost of an app that will “in real time allow providers across the system to identify existing housing inventory in the system and match it with clients based off of eligibility,” Gee said.
An additional $65,000 will be set aside for a consultant responsible for all relevant training of providers.
Another $15,000 will go toward "client incentives," which are intended to provide spot support for clients who are housed but hovering on the brink of homelessness. Gee said providers would be able to give those incentives at their discretion to a vulnerable individual facing possible eviction because they cannot meet a late rent fee or are unable to obtain an apartment because of not being able to afford an initial deposit, for example.
A parent kept from working because they cannot afford child care could also be incentivized to avoid homelessness through spot funding, Gee added.
"Sometimes clients need child care and don’t have it, so they give up," she said.
The county will soon begin a bidding process for a third-party organization to oversee the Coordinated Entry System and ensure it is being operated equitably, McAdams said. That organization could take the form of a government agency, a coalition of government bodies or a nonprofit, he said.
While the county has allotted $255,000 to initiate the Coordinated Entry System, Gee said she's hopeful that other key organizations — such as the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Salt Lake County Housing Authority and Intermountain Healthcare — have roles to play in maintaining the system.
Under the new model, $400,000 that had been allotted to the Road Home for security services will now be appropriated to Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that owns the property, Gee said.
Beginning in July, that organization be responsible for selecting and overseeing security services contractors at the Road Home and later at the new homeless resource centers, she said.
Contributing: Katie McKellar