Date Published: August 2016
Prioritization ensures that youth with the most severe service needs and levels of vulnerability are prioritized for limited housing and homeless assistance resources that meet their needs and strengths and is the process by which a youth is placed in a relative order for referral to different types of housing and services. As discussed in FAQ 2940, runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and other youth providers should play an active role in the Continuum of Care’s (CoC) development of the prioritization process to ensure vulnerable youth have access to resources. Prioritization principles must be consistently applied and may reflect the following vulnerability factors:
Assessment tools will capture some of these factors and yield an “assessment score.” The other factors identified by the community, including those that account for the unique experiences and vulnerabilities of youth, will be combined with the assessment score to determine a prioritization “ranking” for housing and services. It is important to note that the “ranking” does not necessarily equal the “assessment score” produced by popular assessment tools. CoCs can choose to prioritize a certain vulnerability factor over another, which would allow an individual to be placed at a higher priority for the next available and appropriate resource than their assessment score dictates. For example, a pregnant or parenting youth might have a moderate risk and vulnerability “assessment score” based on the assessment tools used in the community, but their CoC may determine that all pregnant and parenting youth should be considered at higher risk. Therefore, a pregnant or parenting youth in that community with only a moderate assessment score would be ranked as a higher priority for the next available, appropriate resource. If a youth meets multiple factors prioritized by the community (e.g. a youth is pregnant or parenting, has serious behavioral health needs, and is fleeing domestic violence), the multiple vulnerabilities should contribute to a higher prioritization ranking than if the youth only meets a single factor prioritized by the community. These examples emphasize the importance of setting priorities that consider the vulnerabilities of youth and the limitations of assessment tools. Prioritization ranking must ensure that coordinated entry (CE) prioritizes youth for housing and supportive services when they meet the factors prioritized by the community, even when assessment scores do not indicate a relatively high risk.
Communities should incorporate processes to connect youth who are not ranked high enough for a dedicated homelessness resource to other types of resources in the community. Referrals to services not targeted exclusively to homeless and runaway youth should include family counseling, community-based mental health services, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), early childhood supports, education-based supports, and other mainstream services that may be able to help address youths’ needs. RHY providers have experience in making these types of youth-appropriate referrals and links, and can help CoCs develop methods that ensure these types of connections are made through the CE process. Finally, the prioritization process should not limit access to emergency services such as HUD funded emergency shelter or RHY Basic Center Programs, and every attempt should be made to ensure that young people are off the streets as quickly as possible.