Coordinated Entry — a strategy that houses people by priority

Confronting Homelessness

Last month I wrote about how the Diversion Program is helping to make Housing First productive. One of the key elements of Housing First and the Diversion Program is called Coordinated Entry.

In mid-2017, the Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns hired David Nakama to be the Homeless Program coordinator. Nakama pioneered the first program of this kind in the state.

Under Nakama’s astute leadership, the Coordinated Entry Program was developed. He quickly became the main point person for homelessness and homeless programs on the island of Maui. He facilitates the collaboration of service providers, federal, state and county agencies. As you know, most of us resist change and despite this resistance, Coordinated Entry has proven to be successful and continues to grow. His department also addresses the community complaints about homeless encampments, works closely with the community police and advocates for affordable housing needs.

The current success of Coordinated Entry can be attributed to the deliberate strategy of housing people by priority. The most vulnerable are prioritized as being the first to be placed in a home when in the past they were often the last to be housed. This prioritization is the driving force behind the continued development and improvement of the program.

A top priority for Nakama and his staff is finding more programs that will help those who suffer from substance abuse as well as mental illness. They realize that there is still more that can be done in these areas and that it is vital to increase services and provide more beds for the homeless who suffer from these disorders.

Housing First continues to be an effective model in communities all over the world, successfully reducing homelessness as well as reducing the costs of homelessness. For more information, Google Housing First success stories and innumerable stories will pop up that tell about the progress that other communities are experiencing.

One of the first communities to implement housing first was Toronto. I wrote about Toronto a while back. You can find this at Toronto is continuing to see success and as a forerunner in the implementation of Housing First — it has learned lessons that can be used to our advantage.

On Maui we have seen a 20 percent decrease in homelessness in the last two years because of Housing First. This is due to the compassionate, hardworking individuals and organizations of the Homeless Alliance who have embraced this model and have made it their life mission to end homelessness. The path to this success is often difficult and unusually a thankless journey. In spite of this, the members of the Maui Homeless Alliance endeavor to end homelessness because they realize that there is no stopping until everyone is in a home.

Nakama continues to help the alliance realize that working together will reap positive results. The Coordinated Entry database streamlines the process and helps move people in the system faster into housing. This system improves the quality of the data collection and provides more accurate information on the type of assistance individuals need up front. It also helps eliminate the dreaded duplication of services between agencies by ending the necessity for people to go from agency to agency to hunt down the services they need. This Coordinated Entry database continues to improve the efficiency of homeless services so that the success of housing the homeless can continue on Maui.

With all the improvements we’ve seen, we still have to address the fact that there is still an extreme affordable rental shortage on Maui. Until we as a community find a way to provide more affordable rentals, many of these folks may never be able to afford to live in a home of their own and will continue to need the help of nonprofits and government agencies.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of the Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The Alliance meets on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku. To participate, call (808) 242-4900.