The Importance of Understanding the Roles and Responsibilities of California Continuums of Care (CoCs) in Solving Homelessness

Forging a closer partnership between CoCs and State, Counties,
Cities, and Community Stakeholders is Imperative

  • California’s 44 Continuums of Care (CoCs) encompass the entire state (see map);
  • Each CoC has a lead agency whose responsibility is to coordinate a wide-range of public and private partners within its jurisdiction including state, county, city, and community stakeholders;
  • Each CoC collects, stores, and analyzes longitudinal personal-level information about persons who access the homeless service system within their entire region through a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS);
  • Each CoC coordinates a sheltered and unsheltered count and survey of people experiencing homelessness within their jurisdiction during January in odd-number years;
  • Future posts will include other roles and responsibilities that can help forge a closer relationship between CoCs and state county, city, and community stakeholders;
  • Initial steps for forging a closer relationship between CoCs and stakeholders are described below.

Primary Goal and Outcome

The primary goal of this post and ensuing related posts is to encourage a wide-range of public and private organizations and individuals to fully understand the roles, responsibilities, and capacities of Continuums of Care (CoCs) regarding solutions to prevent and end homelessness.

The primary desired outcome for this post is to help forge a closer partnership between the California’s CoCs and State of California councils, agencies, and departments; counties; cities; and community stakeholders including commissions, committees, and coalitions to further progress towards solving homelessness.

First Post in a Series

This initial post focuses on the importance of understanding the composition of California’s CoCs in terms of jurisdiction, governance, and data collection for solving homelessness. Subsequent posts will focus on the importance of understanding other CoC roles and responsibilities for solving homelessness that will include jurisdictional-wide system performance measures, longitudinal systems analysis, coordinated entry systems, racial disparity assessments, and innovating evidence-based, best, promising, and emerging practices to prevent and end homelessness.

This post also focuses on ways by which a wide-range of public and private stakeholders can help forge a closer partnership with CoCs by helping them fulfill commitments made to federal and state funding sources to solve local homelessness, which is imperative.

A. Understanding the Roles and Responsibilities of California Continuums of Care (CoCs) in Solving Homelessness

California’s 44 CoCs encompass the entire state

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designed a system of Continuums of Care (CoCs) which span all 50 states and 6 United States territories. California is divided into 44 CoCs.

Urban Initiatives has created a map that divides the 44 CoCs into three regions—Northern, Central, and Southern California. (see map)

Lead Agency Responsibility to Coordinate a Wide-range of Public and Private Partners

Each CoC has a lead agency whose responsibility is to coordinate a wide-range of public and private partners within its jurisdiction including state, county, city, and community stakeholders.

HUD established the concept of a Collaborative Applicant to be the lead agency of each continuum of care (CoC). As noted by HUD,

The Collaborative Applicant is the eligible applicant designated by the Continuum of Care (CoC) to collect and submit the CoC Registration, CoC Consolidated Application (which includes the CoC Application and CoC Priority Listing), and apply for CoC planning funds on behalf of the CoC during the CoC Program Competition. The CoC may assign additional responsibilities to the Collaborative Applicant so long as these responsibilities are documented in the CoC’s governance charter.

California CoCs are the recipients of annual HUD Continuum of Care Program Competition funding, which was approximately $436 million in 2019 for 800 programs throughout the state, and includes programs operated by counties, cities, and non-profit organizations.

Continuum of Care Program awards also support Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) and Coordinated Entry Systems (CES), which are required by HUD and the State of California in order to receive funding for solving local homelessness. These systems are briefly described below.

Continuum of Care Program also awards planning funds for Collaborative Applicants for

Developing a communitywide or regionwide process involving the coordination of nonprofit homeless providers, victim service providers, faith-based organizations, governments, businesses, advocates, public housing agencies, school districts, social service providers, mental health agencies, hospitals, universities, affordable housing developers, law enforcement, organizations that serve veterans, and homeless and formerly homeless individuals.

HUD also states that

Continuums are expected to include representation to the extent that the type of organization exists within the geographic area that the Continuum represents and is available to participate in the Continuum.

The State of California has adopted the CoC structure established by HUD for solving homelessness but refers to Collaborative Applicants as Administrative Entities (AE):

. . . the AE means a unit of general purpose local government (city, county or a city that is also a county) or a nonprofit organization that has (1) previously administered federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) COC funds as the collaborative applicant pursuant to Section 587.3 of Title of the Code of Federal Regulations, and (2) been designated by the CoC to administer program funds.

Urban Initiatives has compiled a list of Collaborative Applicants/Administrative Entities from the CoCs 2019 Continuum of Care Program Application in which CoCs were asked to provide the name of its Collaborative Applicant. Click here to see list of Collaborative Applicants/Administrative Entities by CoC.

Recently minor edits were made to the list. The Turlock, Modesto/Stanislaus County CoC recently changed their Collaborative Applicant from the City of Modesto to the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency and the Bakersfield/Kern County CoC changed their Collaborative Applicant from the United Way of Kern County to the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative.

The majority of Collaborative Applicants/Administrative Entities are units of government. Of the 44 CoCs, 30 or more than two-thirds (68.2%) are government entities—23 are counties, 3 are joint power authorities, one is a city that is also a county (San Francisco), and three are a city (Glendale, Long Beach, and Pasadena). The remaining 14 Collaborative Applicants/ Administrative Entities are non-profit organizations.

Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Lead Agency

Each CoC collects, stores, and analyzes longitudinal personal-level information about persons who access the homeless service system within their entire region through a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).

As defined by HUD, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Lead Agency is

the entity designated by the Continuum of Care in accordance with the HMIS Proposed Rule (24 CFR Part 580) to operate the Continuum’s HMIS on the Continuum’s behalf. As of May 2019, the HMIS Rule is not in effect. When HUD publishes the final HMIS Rule communities will be given time to come into compliance with the rule.

The HMIS Lead agency also assigns an individual(s) as the HMIS Administrator(s).

whose job it is to manage the HMIS implementation at the local level: enrolling programs and managing appropriate use, supporting users through connection to, or direct provision of, user training, and overseeing system setup.

See list of HMIS Lead Agencies by CoC complied by Urban Initiatives.

Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Software Vendor

As noted by HUD,

A Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is the local information technology system used to collect client-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to homeless individuals and families and persons at risk of homelessness. Each Continuum of Care (CoC) is responsible for selecting an HMIS software solution that complies with HUD’s data collection, management, and reporting standards.

Click here to see list of HMIS software vendors by CoC compiled by Urban Initiatives.

CoCs Coordinate Homeless Counts and Surveys within Their Region

Each CoC coordinates a sheltered and unsheltered count and survey of people experiencing homelessness within their jurisdiction during January of odd-number years. As described by HUD,

The Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. HUD requires that Continuums of Care conduct an annual count of people experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night. Continuums of Care also must conduct a count of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness every other year (odd numbered years). Each count is planned, coordinated, and carried out locally.

Homeless counts and surveys help establish the extent of homelessness within CoC jurisdictions, which helps local policymakers and service providers track progress toward solving local homelessness by comparing odd-numbered year counts and surveys. Comparison of PIT counts can reveal changing trends in the number and characteristics of homeless persons in a given area.

Click here to see a map that compares the 2017 homeless count with the 2019 homeless count for each CoC.

B. Forging a closer partnership with the State, Counties, Cities, and Community Stakeholders is Imperative

Initial Steps

In forging closer partnerships among entities engaged in solving homelessness, initial steps should focus on understanding the crucial roles and the range of responsibilities of California’s CoCs in solving homelessness. Indeed, the critical roles and the full-range of responsibilities of CoCs in solving homelessness needs to be fully communicated to all of the entities that touch homelessness within the state, counties, cities, and local communities. Once understood, the wide-range of public and private partners can engage with CoCs to support efficient fulfillment of the roles and responsibilities. Vibrant partnerships can result in strengthening strategies to alleviate the negative impacts of homelessness on individuals, families, and communities and to effective use of resources.

In the annual CoC Program application submitted to HUD in 2019, CoCs made varying levels of commitment towards activities that directly relate to many public and private partnerships.

During recent annual CoC Program Applications, HUD asked CoCs to respond to the following activities:

  • What is the CoC’s strategy to solicit and consider “opinions from a broad array of organizations and individuals that have knowledge of homelessness, or an interest in preventing and ending homelessness;”
  • “Applicants must select the appropriate response (“yes” or “no”) for each federal, state, local, private, other organizations, or program source the CoC included in the planning and operation of projects that serve individuals experiencing homelessness, families experiencing homelessness, unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, persons who are fleeing domestic violence, or persons at risk of homelessness,” which included
    • Housing and services programs funded through State Government;
    • Housing and services programs funded through Local Government; and
    • Housing and service programs funded through private entities, including foundations.”
  • Demonstrate “participation from a broad array of stakeholders within the CoC’s geographic area” in CoC meetings and answer “yes” or “no” to a long list of organizations and persons that included the following:
    • “Local Government Staff/Officials;
    • CDBG/HOME/ESG Entitlement Jurisdiction;
    • Law Enforcement;
    • Public Housing Authorities;
    • School Administrators/Homeless Liaisons;
    • Agencies that serve survivors of human trafficking;
    • Street Outreach Team(s);
    • Mental Health Service Organizations;
    • Substance Abuse Service Organizations; and
    • Disability Service Organizations,” among others.
  • Explain “CoC consultation with ESG Program recipients” by describing how the CoC
    • “consulted with ESG Program recipients in planning and allocating ESG funds;
    • participated in the evaluating and reporting performance of ESG Program recipients and sub-recipients; and
    • ensured local homelessness information is communicated and addressed in the Consolidated Plan updates.”

“Applicants must indicate whether the CoC ensured local homelessness information is communicated to Consolidated Plan Jurisdictions within its geographic area so it can be addressed in Consolidated Plan updates.”

  • CoCs must, regarding Public Housing Agency written policies on homeless admission preferences,

“provide the steps the CoC has taken, with the two largest PHAs within the CoC’s geographic area or the two PHAs the CoC has working relationships with, to adopt a homeless admission preference–if the CoC only has one PHA within its geographic area, applicants may respond for one.”

Other commitments made by CoCs in recent annual CoC Program Application concern criminalization of homelessness, discharge planning from public and private systems of care, trauma informed care, safety needs of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking survivors, anti-discrimination policy and training, rapid rehousing of families with children, ensuring that all unsheltered persons are identified and engaged in housing options and supportive services, and racial disparity assessments.

Throughout the year, CoCs are asked by HUD to narrate progress towards the above activities in the annual CoC Program Application by completing and submitting data for system performance measures and longitudinal systems analysis.

Forging a closer partnership with the State, Counties, Cities, and Community Stakeholders is essential and imperative. Otherwise, the importance of understanding the full role and full-range of responsibilities of California Continuums of Care (CoCs) in Solving Homelessness will never be fully realized.

The entities that touch homelessness within the state, counties, cities, and local communities are in the best position to help CoCs fulfill their commitments towards solving homelessness in partnership with a wide-range of public and private partners. These entities that touch homelessness are best positioned to help CoCs fulfill their following commitments:

  • Participation from a broad array of stakeholders within the CoC’s geographic area that includes Local Government Staff/Officials; CDBG/HOME/ESG Entitlement Jurisdiction; Law Enforcement; Public Housing Authorities; School Administrators/Homeless Liaisons; Agencies that serve survivors of human trafficking; Street Outreach Team(s); Mental Health Service Organizations; Substance Abuse Service Organizations; and Disability Service Organizations,” among others;
  • The planning and operation of housing and services programs funded through State Government; housing and services programs funded through Local Government; and housing and service programs funded through private entities, including foundations;
  • Consultation with ESG Program recipients in planning and allocating ESG funds; participating in the evaluating and reporting performance of ESG Program recipients and sub-recipients; and ensuring local homelessness information is communicated and addressed in the Consolidated Plan updates.”
  • A strategy to solicit and consider “opinions from a broad array of organizations and individuals that have knowledge of homelessness, or an interest in preventing and ending homelessness.”

There are other commitments made by California’s CoCs through the annual CoC Program Application that were mentioned above. Other commitments were also made by CoCs as recipients of State of California funding to help solve local homelessness. Sources of funding include the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program, and Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention Program. These commitments will be the subject of other posts as part of an overall series.

The full role and the full-range of responsibilities of CoCs in solving homelessness can never be fully understood by CoCs without fully understanding the roles and responsibilities of all of the entities that touch homelessness within the state, counties, cities, and local communities. This will only happen when their roles and responsibilities are fully communicated to the CoCs by these public and private entities. Commitments made by these public and private entities will be the subject of other posts as part of an overall series to help forge a closer relationship with CoCs.

 

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