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New homelessness response system underway in Idaho

A new homelessness response system launched Jan. 22 across Idaho prioritizes those with the greatest needs rather than the first-come, first-serve approach that homeless service providers have used in the past, said Sojourners’ Alliance executive director Steve Bonnar.

“It’s no longer first-come, first-serve – it’s who has the highest need,” Bonnar said.

Bonnar said those in need of housing can now call an access point in their region and undergo a screening process – over the phone or in person – to determine the level of need. There is one access point for each of the state’s six regions. In Region 2, which includes Latah, Nez Perce, Clearwater, Idaho and Lewis counties, the access point is Sojourners’ Alliance in Moscow.

Bonnar said the purpose of the new system is to connect homeless people to the right service in an objective manner using point values.

“The No. 1 priority population to be served would be chronically homeless individuals and families who have been literally homeless continuously for at least 24 consecutive months,” Bonnar said.

A person fitting that description would earn 30 points during the screening process, whereas a non-chronically homeless person who has been homeless for 90 days would earn five points, or the sixth and lowest priority.

“Basically, what we’re saying is the biggest priority populations that are being addressed and looked at are the ones that have been homeless the longest,” Bonnar said. “Then it goes down to lesser categories.”

The access point will work to coordinate housing and service referrals with a network of community providers who offer housing and other essential services, Bonnar said.

Those who call an access point and answer the screening questions are put on a waiting list, Bonnar said. When Sojourners’, for example, has an opening in its program, it will inform the access point that a spot is available. Bonnar said the access point will then contact the individual, and eventually Sojourners’ personnel would screen the individual to determine if he or she meets the program’s requirements.

“The whole idea is to streamline it so that it gets people to the right place,” Bonnar said.

Bonnar said the Region 2 access point was not implemented until Jan. 29 due to Sojourners’ ongoing recovery from a structure fire in December.

Before the access point in Moscow was implemented, Bonnar said an individual looking for shelter would call The Salvation Army in Lewiston, for example, and then Sojourners’ if there were no openings.

“This kind of access point is, I foresee it, is really beneficial for the big cities,” Bonnar said. “As far as small rural areas, there’s only two of us (Sojourners’ and The Salvation Army in Lewiston in Region 2) providing funding for homelessness long term.”

Bonnar said the system is only set up to send an individual to a housing provider within a region. For example, a homeless person in Latah County seeking residence in Kootenai County would need to call the Coeur d’Alene access point.

“It’s not a statewide access point,” he said. “It’s only regional. It’s not set up for us to screen somebody and send the screening up to say, Coeur d’Alene, Boise or Idaho Falls.”


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