Page title

Data Sharing Improves Service Delivery in Washington State

Main page content

Sometimes a relatively simple, easy-to-explain change drives a re-conception of process and objective. In Washington State, the Community Action Partnership, a network of nonprofit private and public organizations that address the causes, and not the symptoms, of poverty, sought to improve the efficiency of service delivery for a range of public service agencies. The increase in efficiency was required by the HEARTH Act, signed into law in 2009. So they created and implemented two improvements: a “no wrong door” policy and a single intake form to be used by several agencies providing services to clients experiencing homelessness. This meant that any one of a group of service providers could intake a person in the county and then refer that person to the appropriate service agencies—the client didn’t have to figure out what services they needed and fill out multiple redundant forms.

But what it really meant was that multiple agencies could collaborate seamlessly on providing needed services to a single person or family in Washington State. Moreover, it required information sharing that, in turn, provided a more accurate measurement of results.

“We had different agencies set with their own processes and procedures in place. A common intake form might require giving up some power. But all partners signed on to a data sharing agreement that allowed us to view where clients were being served in our community, and a very fluid process evolved. If you have a single intake form, what screens in and what screens out? An advisory committee with shelter representatives, the Northwest Youth Services, the YMCA Teen Shelter, a representative from the county, and the Community Action of Skagit County came together to work on the problem,” said Bill Henkel, who is executive director of Community Action of Skagit County as well as head of the Community Action Network in the state. “We now have a Housing Resource Center that creates a point of entry for clients to connect to other providers.”

Melissa Self, housing manager for Community Action of Skagit County, said, “People were bouncing around, didn’t know where to get help, couldn’t travel easily, and didn’t know what they were looking for or how to verify eligibility for a range of services. So we put homelessness services together, with knowledgeable staff and one application, and that way the clients get referrals appropriate for their need.”

Much of the change came about as a result of a two-day retreat called HEARTH Academy, to explain and respond to changes required by the 2009 Act. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is the change if we have a shared clientele with a mission to reduce homelessness?’” said Henkel. “The facilitator was skilled at driving conversations and eventually the cynics became lead voices. This made it a much more refined plan with a single point of entry.”

“It is a great thing to have a coordinated funding approach, for example with mental health funding and veterans funding. And it makes for better feedback at the community and agency level. You need to have a vision—what ‘dial’ are you trying to move? We dive into the data, get client insights, and it makes for a common approach with data sharing. The dial we want to move is to solve homelessness with more resources used more efficiently.”

The data shows results: reduced homelessness, according to the latest Homeless Point-in-Time Count survey. “We’ve seen a big impact on veteran homelessness—there were 21 chronically homeless vets in the county ten years ago but we have housed at least that many. And people experiencing homelessness in the county are not spending as long on waiting list—we have reduced homelessness to 27 days on average,” said housing manager Self.

“We are spending time convincing the state and federal government to invest in community-level data to make progress. How do you learn to grow?” asked Henkel. “This is a really important thing for people. It becomes a model for working on hunger and health care.”

This article was published to highlight the August 2014 theme of Community and State Systems Integration. Learn about SAMSHA's state and local government partnerships.

Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.

Last Updated

Last Updated: 04/19/2016