These actions are informed by four months of primary and secondary research conducted by our team. Our team analyzed national best practices and global innovations as well as the policies, organizational structures, regulatory authorities, and performance reports of local stakeholder agencies to understand the systems-level structures that drive performance. We consulted with more than 100 local and national public officials, system administrators, and technical experts to understand the challenges and opportunities at hand.
Our ability to develop these actions also required an understanding of the current state of services derived from the experiences of frontline staff and people experiencing homelessness. Our research team leveraged a mix of design workshops, interviews, and site visits across King County. Our lines of inquiry identified the most pressing challenges for accessing and delivering services and the dynamics between service providers, customers, and the system.
Homelessness represents multi-sector, multi-system failures that require whole-of-community solutions. Many of the strategies, connections, and services needed to support individuals experiencing homelessness are managed outside of the homeless service system or in geographically separated systems.
Consolidation captures critical functions of the homeless service system in a new, centralized authority. Institutional alignment creates the mechanisms necessary to formalize relationships between that entity and other mission-critical partners across the region.
In workshops and interviews, customers’1 experiences reflected cross-system fragmentation and illustrated how unclear program pathways, dispersed service locations, and complex eligibility policies slow progress toward stability. Customers need access to a wide array of resources and supports outside of the homeless service system2 in order to achieve their personal goals, but those supports are not well-aligned with the homeless service system. Regional transformation is dependent on cross-system collaboration to address the crisis at hand.
To address fragmentation, leaders in partner systems should adopt the uniform theory of change as the governing principle across programs and providers that serve people experiencing homelessness. Some programs (identified below) are not structurally suited for consolidation, though they offer integral services for people experiencing homelessness. Consolidation would also not be functionally viable because it would destabilize services for customers not experiencing homelessness. However, aligning these programs with homeless service system policy priorities, performance metrics, and customer referral processes established by a regional authority would ensure effective cross-system collaboration and streamline services.
Robust institutional partnership, using contractual mechanisms to inform and shape cross-system policies and priorities, is key to ensuring customers’ access to resources. Affordable housing development, human services, public health services, and public housing are just four examples of the systems to which the homeless service system must be closely tethered. The role of partners in informing joint policy-making, advisory, oversight, and input roles will vary. However, the core functions of procurement priorities, program goals, deliverables, and timelines should be aligned according to the community’s theory of change and cross-system policy priorities.
Alignment between other agencies and the new entity would produce the change needed to support a consolidated, customer-oriented regional approach. Representatives of the following agencies have been engaged throughout this design process:
- The Seattle Office of Housing
- The Seattle Human Services Department
- The Seattle and King County Department of Public Health
- The King County Department of Community and Human Services
- The Seattle/King County Continuum of Care
- The King County and Seattle Public Housing Authorities
Please note that this team refers to “people with lived experience” or “people experiencing homelessness” as “customers” to accurately reflect their status placement within the system. ↩
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. (February 2017). Enhancing Coordinated Entry through Partnerships with Mainstream Resources and Programs. ↩
Create long-term institutional alignment across systems serving people experiencing homelessness
1. Adopt a uniform theory of change across programs serving people experiencing homelessness that are not consolidated under the new regional authority.
To be operationalized, the community’s theory of change should guide all programs reaching people experiencing homelessness. Administrators across these programs should index internal policies and priorities against the theory of change. Programs should also develop performance metrics in alignment with the homelessness response system. This would translate the customer orientation of the homeless service system to these adjacent systems, and set the stage for meaningful systems collaboration.
2. Develop and institutionalize mechanisms to inform and shape cross-system policies and priorities.
Data-driven insights on customers’ challenges and opportunities must flow fluidly between the new entity and partner programs within other systems. Partnerships should be underpinned by memoranda of understanding that outline partner roles and responsibilities, including oversight over system-wide priorities; robust data sharing agreements; and mechanisms for sharing program data to inform policy priorities and help partners identify scalable practices.
Partner systems should identify staff who are responsible for system coordination, as well as staff who are responsible for navigating cross-system connections for customers. Mechanisms for systems to be held accountable to robust coordination should also be established.
3. Leverage shared frameworks and data sharing agreements to align metrics that are centered on customers’ experience, outcomes, and cross-system policy priorities.
Alignment around the community’s theory of change will only be effective if cross-system performance metrics are established that reflect common goals, a shared understanding of best practices, and community-wide, customer-centered services. These metrics should be developed by the regional entity in collaboration with partners and should prioritize customer-driven, housing-focused outcomes. A metrics dashboard should be developed to give administrators a real-time view of system performance and drive continuous quality improvement across systems.
4. Align procurement priorities, goals, deliverables, and timelines according to the community’s theory of change and cross-system policy priorities.
Best practices (e.g. harm reduction, Housing First approaches, shared decision making, and peer supports) should be implemented across systems.
Procurement processes are a core element of cross-system collaboration, particularly when providers receive funding from multiple sources and devote significant staff time to navigating duplicative reporting processes and competing priorities. The new entity should consolidate contracting into an omnibus procurement process for homeless service providers that streamlines funding and reporting into the minimum number of contracts possible. Those contracts should reflect uniform, system-wide priorities and preferred practices. They should also be structured to incentivize collaboration among providers, leveraging both public and private funding streams.
For systems serving a broader population, partners should identify their distinct connections to the work to prevent and end homelessness and delineate priorities, goals, deliverables, and timelines in alignment with established performance metrics and community-wide goals.