A Call to Fully Automate Coordinated Assessment

September 26, 2014 in NHSDC Blog by admin

Today’s blog post is from Tony Gardner.  He has worked on issues of homelessness, CoC, and technology since 1993.  The views expressed are the author’s alone.

Coordinated assessment is the greatest systems change to the Continuum of Care (CoC) since the introduction of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).  Unfortunately, the current planning direction sidelines the greatest driver of all modern systems changes – automated computer technology.  Until there is an “automation shift” – a move to make coordinated assessment fully electronic and on-line – the full benefits of this systems change will never be realized.

In this regard, coordinated assessment is way behind many other fields.  Online hotel reservations, retail sales, Housing Authority waitlists, and airline reservations all come to mind.  Airline reservations are not that different from CoC housing placements.  In both cases, you have consumers who are trying to find the best way to get from point A to point B – from here to a travel destination for airline reservations, or from the streets to housing for a CoC.  And in both cases, you might have multiple stops along the way – Memphis, Chicago to Fargo for airlines, or emergency shelter, transitional housing, to permanent housing for a CoC.

Yet coordinated assessment is so far behind airline reservations, and the main difference is computer technology.  Nowadays, you can go online to an airline reservation system, put in your requirements, find all the flights and connections that meet your needs, pick your seats, and close the deal.  But not with the current CoC.  What if like most CoCs, you had to go to every airline and ask them about tickets.  Or even go to a travel agency, which is like the current CoC idea of “central intake.”  Would anyone really want to go back to the old way?

No.  It is time to fully realize the benefits of coordinated assessment by going the fully digital route.  The basic technology already exists as shown by many other fields; it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together in a way that makes sense in the CoC world.  What’s fundamentally needed is for the technologists out there to invent the system and make models.  CoCs can then decide which model they prefer.

One way to get this process started is to hold some kind of a public design charette (results available to all technologists), in which CoC representatives come together to design the ideal electronic online system from the front end (client access and assessment) to the back end (client placement and enrollment).  I’ll bet the resulting vision would have a lot easier access, a lot more consumer choice, and be much more efficient than any current systems.

Imagine being able to apply and be assessed for housing with few a clicks on your phone or computer, being automatically matched to the range of housing that best meets your needs, being able to actually see the beds and units you prefer, and being able to apply for the bed or unit with a mere click.  When this happens – and it will – it will be truly revolutionary. And like online airline reservations does for travelers, it will dramatically transform and improve the way homeless people move from the streets to housing.

I’ll conclude with a few questions.

  1. What are your thoughts on whether coordinated assessment should become more electronic?
  2. What specific intake and assessment functionalities could benefit from more online automation?
  3. What barriers to progress are there, and how do we begin to overcome them?

I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts, and will answer any and all comments!


Tony Gardner
Tony Gardner Consulting

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