16 Ideas for Getting Community Sectors to Join the Homeless CoC & HMIS

16 Ideas for Getting Community Sectors to Join the Homeless CoC & HMIS

How do you engage various parts of the community in your homeless Continuum of Care and Homeless Management Information System?

How do you convince various community sectors that their collaboration is crucial to ending homelessness?

How do you provide incentives for CoC and HMIS participation that will actually work?

These are common questions asked by community leaders working to address homelessness.

Homelessness touches many parts of the community, including law enforcement, health care providers, educators, smaller court systems, and landlords. To end homelessness, we need to bring these different community sectors together to develop and implement solutions as a team.

But the overarching question remains: What’s in it for them? These community sectors aren’t funded by the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). For many, their primary clients aren’t homeless. And these community sectors aren’t immune to misunderstanding homelessness and its causes; they may have negative views toward people experiencing homelessness. Even if they wanted to help, they’re often short on time, staffing, and funding.

There aren’t simple solutions to bringing different community sectors to the CoC and HMIS table. You can’t Google the answers—and while you may find some, practical answers and examples are hard to come by.

That’s why we looked internally, at the experts on our team who have current and past hands-on experience as CoC coordinators, HMIS system administrators, project managers, service coordinators, IT specialists, and various other roles.

We’ve compiled their thoughts in an easy-to-read list of ideas:

  1. Collaborate on grant applications
  2. Proactively meet their needs
  3. Show cost benefit and savings
  4. Offer support and leadership in their initiatives
  5. Host events with incentives
  6. Provide opportunities for them to get exposure
  7. Extend personal invitations
  8. Use peer pressure and proven success
  9. Give recognition and progress reports
  10. Demonstrate how participation will help them achieve their goals
  11. Reconcile data differences
  12. Become your community’s homeless data guru
  13. Identify and develop a partnership advocate
  14. List clear benefits from HMIS participation
  15. Highlight the consequences of not participating
  16. Emphasize that collaboration is a necessity

The first 9 ideas are CoC participation as a whole, and the last 7 ideas are for HMIS participation specifically. We wish you the very best in applying these tips and examples within your community!


Ideas for CoC Participation

1. Collaborate on grant applications.

“When applying for grants, collaborate with other county departments for the applications (such as prison / law enforcement for reentry programs, school district contacts for youth homelessness data, economic development organizations for workforce development). This brings in different parts of the community, and could potentially lead to a representative participating on an ‘Action Team,’ involving them in the CoC.”

—Kerri Canataro, former HMIS System Administrator for a County CoC / HMIS Lead


2. Proactively meet their needs.

“In King County we’ve gotten first responders and other atypical groups to participate in the CoC by essentially meeting a need for them. Being involved with the CoC allows these institutions to identify needs that can potentially be met by the CoC in the interest of better serving our communities. It also enables them to receive the help they need in dealing with problems they regularly encounter but don’t otherwise have the resources to deal with.

“For example, we have a program that partners homeless services case managers with police officers. When police officers respond to calls where potentially homeless folks are doing something that requires intervention (but doesn’t necessarily require something like an expensive jail stay), case managers can ride along on the call and intervene as appropriate, helping the individual get connected to services.

“We also have a similar program in our libraries, where librarians partner with homeless services providers to receive training on how to best serve homeless individuals spending time in the libraries. In our bigger, urban libraries there are even homeless services staff on site to outreach and work with homeless folks who show up.

—Sarah Dougherty, Seattle / King County HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


3. Show cost benefit and savings.

“Participation is tough for providers who aren’t HUD-funded. They don’t usually see the benefit in participating, and given how stretched resources (especially personnel) are in the nonprofit world, they are disinclined to give up the time and personnel necessary to fully participate in the CoC. Participation often comes at a considerable financial cost to the partner, and anything that can be done to reduce this burden, demonstrate direct cost savings, etc., is a huge help.”

—Julee King, former Coordinator of Homeless Systems in New York; current Data Analyst at Bitfocus


4. Offer support and leadership in their initiatives.

“A CoC Lead in a California community was able to bring the American Red Cross to the table by helping plan and coordinate a community-wide Disaster Readiness Conference. The CoC Lead joined a larger county-wide organization committed to disaster prevention. By taking a leadership role in planning for and coordinating the event, we were also able to bring Red Cross—and other organizations who normally wouldn’t participate—to our CoC meetings, because we embedded ourselves in their community. Salvation Army and PG&E were also part of the conference. This was a great way to bring the issue of homelessness into the broader sphere, and in return they started paying more attention to their role in preventing homelessness.”

—Anna Hung, former HMIS System Administrator for a California CoC


5. Host events with incentives.

“We would have a fundraising event every November for our initiative to end homelessness in the county. We gave a sense of ownership in this event to the nonprofits and programs that played a part in the initiative to end homelessness—whatever seats they sold for the event would be donated directly to their programs. As a result, they were encouraged to reach out to all parts of the community to bring everyone together and learn about the initiative’s successes and functions.”

—Kerri Canataro, former HMIS System Administrator for a County CoC / HMIS Lead


6. Provide opportunities for them to get exposure.

“We were able to bring United Way to the table by holding a community-wide conference for homeless and low-income people. The purpose of the event was to connect homeless and low-income people with job opportunities and other resources. United Way distributed branded material during the conference (bags, t-shirts, etc.) and the event was covered by the local press. This was a ‘win-win’ for everyone. It brought United Way to the table, literally, because they started attending CoC meetings.

“We were also able to bring health care providers (hospitals, dentists, veterinarians, testing clinics) to the table by developing robust Project Homeless Connect events in a northern California County. In this County, we provided 2-3 Project Homeless Connects each year. Again, this was a way for providers to get publicity from the local media coverage, and also to distribute branded material (bags, cards, pins, etc.) into the community. Another win-win.”

—Anna Hung, former CoC Coordinator for a California CoC


7. Extend personal invitations.

“With personal meeting invites from CoC leadership, explaining that their voice in these meetings would be really valuable, we were able to get a representative to the initial table and engage them in things going on in the community—like our homeless service events, candlelight vigils for the homeless, etc.”

—Tauri Royce, State of Nevada HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


8. Use peer pressure and proven success.

“Use success to model a path for others. Use the success of current partnerships to make the case for broader participation. … As more homeless-involved stakeholders are involved in a common effort, you can make the case for others to pull their weight.”

—Jeff Ugai, Director of Customer Advocacy at Bitfocus


9. Give recognition and progress reports.

“Praise and recognition, as well as reports reflecting progress, tend to work when engaging the community. When people see success in what they are involved in, they are motivated to stay involved.”

—Kerri Canataro, former HMIS System Administrator for a County CoC / HMIS Lead


Ideas for HMIS Participation

10. Explain how HMIS participation will help them achieve their goals.

“Demonstrate value for each partner—whether it’s recidivism, cost, or even just simplified administration. Show each partner how their participation improves outcomes that ultimately makes it easier for them to achieve their goals. You need to be able to explain to each partner, in their terms, how their participation will help them reduce the burden of high-utilizers, facilitate the delivery of better care, or otherwise make their lives easier.”

—Jeff Ugai, Director of Customer Advocacy at Bitfocus

“If they can see how participation will be advantageous to their clients (i.e. better communication and coordination across the system leads to improved service delivery which leads to better housing stability and therefore a reduction in homelessness and returns to homelessness), they are more likely to participate.”

—Julee King, former Coordinator of Homeless Systems in New York; Data Analyst at Bitfocus

“In Santa Clara County, we’ve recently had a health care agency working with us to be a part of Clarity Human Services, so that they can 1) use Clarity Human Services resources to find their homeless clients, and 2) let case managers know if their clients have a primary care doctor (to decrease visits to the emergency room).”

—Jennifer Ong, Project Manager at Bitfocus


11. Reconcile data differences.

“I’ve found that one common thread across varied stakeholders is interest in accurate and consistent information. When agencies use different data systems with different definitions and strategies to collect key data elements (such as how many “homeless” people are in the community), the results (not surprisingly) vary greatly. This can create many challenges for agencies who are often asked to describe why their numbers are different than those published by other sources (such as the PIT Count or AHAR or system performance measures). Highlighting this source of disagreement, or maybe even tension, and offering solutions that can help to reconcile the differences can be a great motivator to bring and keep stakeholders at the table.”

—Jason Satterfield, Santa Clara County HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


12. Become your community’s homeless data guru.

“I think a key strategy is to become the homeless data guru. It’s not always possible to get every stakeholder to capture and use data the same way, but if you can understand and explain why different folks come up with different data/narratives about homelessness, then you can leverage that expertise to position yourself as a key expert. Many agencies will gladly welcome the advice of a local homeless expert.”

—Jason Satterfield, Santa Clara County HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


13. Identify and develop a partnership advocate.

“Identify and develop a champion within each partnering system of care who will act as your integration evangelical. Whether it’s a break from the standard practice or a drain on scarce resources, meaningful partnership with the CoC often requires a considerable give-and-take from partners. A passionate advocate who can make the case for participation from within the organization is a great asset.”

—Jeff Ugai, Director of Customer Advocacy at Bitfocus


14. List clear benefits from HMIS participation.

“List the several ways HMIS participation benefits everyone:

  • points awarded for AHAR participation
  • automatic ability to pull their PIT data rather than bugging them for manual count every year
  • for them, a robust database that would vastly improve the way they track and report on their clients (even without reporting requirements from any grants that is still a need)
  • access to the public alert system within HMIS for client issues and concerns
  • access to uploading documents from other agencies that could be used to assist the client (copies of ID or birth certificates uploaded can sometimes be used if originals are lost)
  • no fees for participation (the community covered their license fees under the main HMIS grant).”

—Tauri Royce, State of Nevada HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


15. Highlight the consequences of not participating.

“It was continuously expressed how our overall community reporting and funding was impacted by their lack of participation and what a shame that was. All of that [see: “List clear benefits from HMIS participation”] eventually led to my offer to provide a demonstration of the system and what the capabilities could be for them, what data intake would look like, and what type of training and support we can provide.”

—Tauri Royce, State of Nevada HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


16. Emphasize that collaboration is a necessity.

“Always, always, always point out that the end goal is being so much better able to serve the clients and bring them out of homelessness. This is only possible if we have that collaborative effort rather than each organization remaining a silo and never connecting to share their information.”

—Tauri Royce, State of Nevada HMIS System Administrator with Bitfocus


Want to learn more?