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Rhode Island's System for Reducing Homelessness

In an August 4, 2023 interview with Dan Yorke, Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor was asked to explain the process for addressing homelessnesss. Secretary Pryor noted several times how very complex the issue is, but started off by mentioning the "Continuum of Care" and the "Coordinated Entry System." What are these things?

 Note: This setup is necessary for obtaining federal funding to address homelessness.


Continuum of Care

The Continuum of Care (CoC) is a US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program "designed to promote a community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; to provide funding for efforts by nonprofit providers, states, ... and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals, families, persons fleeing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and youth while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused by homelessness; to promote access to and effective utilization of mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families, and to optimize self-sufficiency among those experiencing homelessness." 

RI has a statewide CoC, unlike most other states, due to its size. Most states have at least two CoCs, an urban area(s) CoC(s) and the rest of the state, known by the term "Balance of State (BoS)." The CoC has at least one staff member called the CoC Planner. It has members and a board that meet at least quarterly. Its CoC Policies and Procedures Manual was updated July 1, 2021.

At present, RI's CoC is somewhat obscurred on the housing/homeless websites because it is enmeshed in the Housing Resources Commission meetings.

The Boston Globe on December 16, 2022, reported that the CoC is not required to post minutes in accordance with the state's open meetings laws. However, if you look up Housing Resources Commission on the Secretary of State's open meetings web page, those minutes indicate that the CoC meets jointly with the HRC. And furthermore, CoC IS required to post its minutes in Open Meetings, according to the Governance Charter, p. 5, adopted November 4, 2021, "Notice of Membership Meetings. The Rhode Island Open Meetings Act will govern meetings of the RICOC Membership. The Continuum of Care Planner will send notice of the place, the date, time and agenda of each regular and special meeting by e-mail at least three (3) business days before the meeting date. If requested, notice may be sent by other reasonable means of communication." A search in the Secretary of State Open Meetings section on Continuum of Care found no listings. But it turns out that the Housing Resources Commission and the CoC Board meet jointly. See for example HRC minutes for  July 2023.


Coordinated Entry System

According to HUD, the Coordinated Entry System should be "easy for people to access,... identifies and, assesses [clients'] needs, and [facilitates] prioritization decisions based on needs." (Coordinated Entry Policy Brief)

RI's Coordinated Entry System (CES) is managed by the Coalition to End Homelessness, a nonprofit. Their website states, "Coordinated entry is a nationally recognized process developed to ensure that all people experiencing a crisis have fair and equal access and are quickly identified, assessed for, referred, and connected to housing and assistance based on their strengths and needs."  The CoC has oversight of the CES. There is a 42-page CES Policies and Procedures Manual that was last updated on April 6, 2023


Homelessness Management Information System

The CES uses a HUD-mandated data system, Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS), which tracks the individuals needing assistance and includes data that enable understanding of the range of needs. The 2024 HMIS Data Dictionary has about 100 pages of data elements. This is also managed by The Coalition to End Homelessness, with oversight by CoC. The RI HMIS Policies and Procedures Manual was updated on August 4, 2022.

Some questions about HMIS:

  • How much training is needed to be able to use it efficiently?
  • Who builds the software? It must be Clarity by Bitfocus, because that is the site one goes to for HMIS training. They claim 75 HMIS in use by CoCs, among them most of the largest cities in the US. Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA) manages the Clarity Los Angeles HMIS. (Some other vendors include Wellsky, which claims 60% of CoCs use their software, PlanStreet, and Foothold Technology.)


 .RECOMMENDATION: Raise the visibility of the CoC.

  • Make CoC visible in the Open Meetings portal. Submit CoC notices, agendas, and minutes in the name of RI CoC, even if they are duplicates of the HRC's.
  • Bring together and organize (list current documents and archive out-of-date docs) in a web page from the scattered info about the RI CoC: