This post is part of our community blog series that highlights best practices and solutions from our network partners. This post is contributed by Unite Us team members Abbie Szymanski and Erin Willis.
At Unite Us, our partnerships with Coordinated Entry systems (CES) across the country demonstrate the impact of partnering trusted housing provider networks with coordinated social care networks. With the growing housing crisis in the U.S., the need for collaboration and coordination has never been higher.
Networks powered by Unite Us across the country consistently show housing services as one of the most requested services within our partner communities. The need for housing services and support likely doesn't come as a shock for anyone working within health or human services. Community-based organizations that provide emergency shelter and housing interventions continue to work tirelessly to use the available resources in their communities and have embraced any and all funding streams that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the need for affordable housing is at an all-time high.
“Before Unite Us, there were ‘side doors’ to housing and things were not always done in a fair way,” said Ashley Gunnels, CES Coordinator at Housing Solutions in Tulsa. “Now, there’s only one way in, and because of that, we’re prioritizing correctly and reaching the most vulnerable people.”
How Unite Us compliments coordinated entry systems
The concept of human services networks is not new for housing providers. Existing local Continuum of Care (CoC) and Coordinated Entry systems (CES) have a built-in network of community partners. For federally-funded housing providers to receive funding from HUD, they must adhere to their local CES requirements. Understandably, this can result in concerns about using a new technology that may compete with an existing network of partners and workflows. In reality, Unite Us networks complement and bolster local CES systems by bringing clients to the local CES’s front door when appropriate and connecting clients to other housing and social service opportunities when needed.
North Carolina network gets families the help they need when they need it
In North Carolina, the NCCARE360 network powered by Unite Us connects clients to housing resources, speeding up the time it takes to get clients connected to a safe and stable housing option. In one example, a client was connected through the local Department of Public Health to a rental assistance program so that their family did not lose their home. They were successfully matched to a provider that was able to quickly provide funds for the back payment of rent, enabling this family to remain in their home.
The Greensboro Housing Coalition said of NCCARE360, "We strongly appreciate the feedback loop built into NCCARE360 between agencies making and receiving referrals. In the past, referrals have come our way for things that we can’t or don’t do, and the clients have had to come to us to find this out. NCCARE360 has streamlined things for the consumer, saving them time so they don’t need to use resources to travel to an agency that might not be able to help them."
Oklahoma CoC streamlines coordination and outcomes
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the community-based organization Housing Solutions works within their CoC to house more than 1,300 people facing homelessness in the greater Tulsa region. “That number seems to grow every day,” said Ashley Gunnels, CES Coordinator at Housing Solutions. “Evictions are so high that every time we start to make progress, the same amount of people are still in need. You can’t get ahead of anything.” Tulsa ranks 11th in the U.S. for eviction rates, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the crisis of homelessness.
Housing Solutions is the lead agency for their local CoC working with thirty other community-based organizations, twelve of which are dedicated CES providers. They’ve been coordinating through the Unite Oklahoma network since 2020. Reflecting on the interface between Unite Us and the federal Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), Gunnels said, “They work hand-in-hand. HMIS is our main database and we use Unite Us for referrals and adding new clients. The platform is streamlined so you know exactly what referrals you’re working with, where they came from, and you can track when they are accepted, rejected, or when a client gets housed – no one is getting lost in a string of emails.”
Housing Solutions looks to the Unite Us Platform for more than just case management, however. Olivia Denton Koopman, Director of Data and Analytics with Housing Solutions, can now identify previously unknown gaps in housing capacity within their network and facilitate important conversations to close those gaps.
“I pulled the data last week and discovered a local agency that was rejecting 26 percent of referrals sent, compared to a 10 percent average with the others. To be able to start that conversation is an insight we didn’t have before and allows us, as partners, to address gaps in our network,” explains Koopman.
Koopman and Gunnels have found that since Housing Solutions joined the Unite Us network, they have been able to house people faster—in some cases within one week—and can account for every referral.
Bringing Unite Us to your community
At Unite Us, our partnerships with Coordinated Entry systems across the country demonstrate the impact of partnering trusted housing provider networks with the coordinated social care networks. With the growing housing crisis in the U.S., the need for collaboration and coordination among community-based organizations has never been higher. Please reach out for more information on joining a network in your state or how our work can support your local housing agencies.