Understanding the System

A look at how Tarrant County addresses homelessness

Understanding the System

A look at how Tarrant County addresses homelessness

The Old Way

For over a hundred years, the model of “housing readiness” has been the norm in services to people experiencing homelessness. People are expected to qualify for housing programs by securing employment, getting sober, or resolving other barriers before receiving housing.

The New Way

The new “gold standard” in homeless services is Housing First. Housing First is predicated on the proven concept that people are more likely to become employable or tackle issues such as chemical dependency or other health concerns when they have a stable home base from which to relate to the world. In Tarrant County, various organizations work together with the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC) to provide wrap-around services and partner together to help people escape homelessness.


Continuum of Care (CoC)

The Continuum of Care (CoC) is the collective networks, institutions, and organizations in Tarrant County that provide housing and services to people who are at risk of or are experiencing homelessness. Currently, TCHC is appointed as the Lead Agency, Collaborative Applicant (for government funding opportunities), and HMIS Administrator.

Coordinated Entry

Coordinated Entry is a process designed to ensure all experiencing homelessness have fair and equal access to the community’s resources and are quickly identified, assessed, and rapidly served with the most appropriate intervention.


Participants are individuals, couples, or families with children who are working within the CoC towards housing.

Housing Program

Housing programs are coordinated and managed placement into housing units. Various entities offer housing programs, such as Arlington Housing Authority, CitySquare, DRC Solutions, Fort Worth Housing Solutions, MHMR, Presbyterian Night Shelter, Recovery Resource Council, SafeHaven, Samaritan House, Tarrant County Community Development, The Salvation Army, and the Veterans Administration. These programs are run by the individual organizations. Most have applied for and receive housing vouchers through various avenues, such the state, Fort Worth Housing Solutions, Tarrant County Housing Authority, and private foundations. These vouchers may be assigned to the participant to use wherever they are accepted, or to the property where the units are.

Housing Management Information System (HMIS)

Housing Management Information System is a database used by all members of the CoC and is used to match individuals and families with the proper housing intervention as opportunities become available.

The Journey

So how does all this work? It is not a matter of simply identifying a person experiencing homelessness then handing them a key to an apartment. There are many steps along the way and lots of moving parts.

1. Connect

First, a person (or couple or family) without a home connects with an agency which serves as their entry point into the CoC. Entry points include night shelters, women’s shelters, day shelters, outreach teams who work with people camping, etc. The journey out of homelessness begins!

2. Assess

Next, CoC staff conduct two assessments: HUD (Housing and Urban Development’s tool, includes length of homelessness, disabling conditions, income, benefits received, etc.) and HAT (Housing Assessment Tool, includes in-depth regarding health, criminal history, trauma, etc.) These assessments are recorded in HMIS and together allow providers to prioritize services based on individual or family’s vulnerability and history of homelessness. These assessments are updated as life changes occur.

Now, the participant is part of the coordinated entry system HMIS database. This database contains homeless span, disabling condition documentation, case notes, family notes, background and service information, etc. so that all service agencies across the CoC have access to this information.

3. Track

All agencies within the CoC interacting with the participant enter information about each interaction into HMIS. This allows all CoC members to access information about the various services the participant is receiving as well as any pertinent information gathered during interactions.

Different housing programs have different requirements for participation. These requirements are usually set by the funding agency, such as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. For example, Permanent Supportive Housing programs require a history of 12 months of continuous homelessness or 4 episodes of homelessness in the past 3 years, along with a required accompanying disability.

Recording interactions into the database is key to ensuring these requirements are met. It is essential that participants check in with CoC staff of TCHC member agencies regularly and that all CoC staff record complete, accurate, and timely information about all interactions.

4. Match

Housing program matches are assigned by TCHC using information in HMIS. Individual organizations such as the DRC cannot assign housing program matches.

Once a match is assigned, TCHC notifies the case managers or outreach workers who have been working with the participant. The case manager or outreach worker then must locate and notify the participant of the match.

Some participants are matched to programs through which they are able to choose their housing unit from various properties which accept housing vouchers. Others are assigned to programs which work with specific apartment complexes, and the person will live at that complex. To which program a participant is assigned depends upon their specific needs, such as age, veteran status, health issues, family size, ongoing assistance requirements, etc.

Each participant has individual choice through this process and can decline an opportunity without harming their chances of receiving a new match that might be a better fit for them.

Participants must agree to the policies of the housing program, such as not violating their lease agreement, meeting with their case managers routinely, etc.

5. Prepare

Once the participant is matched with a housing program, they are assisted with securing documentation, searching various programs for appropriate housing opportunities if necessary, and generally preparing for housing. CoC staff ensure all necessary documentation is uploaded into the database.

When more intensive or challenging cases arise, our DRC Navigators are there to help the participant visit potential housing sites, coordinate with landlords and management, and help the participant with rental applications and deposits. All navigation in Fort Worth is handled by DRC staff.

6. Move-In

Finally, an appropriate housing placement is secured! This is the day the participant and CoC staff have been looking forward to! This is a day of celebration, tears, smiles, and joy! The participant signs their lease agreement, and arrangements are made for move-in. The participant is home at last.

Many agencies within the CoC assist with ensuring people have what they need at move-in, such as a stocked pantry and refrigerator, personal care items, household items, and furniture. The person’s case manager or outreach worker assists with connecting to these various agencies.

7. Support

But care doesn’t end there! Now the participant is assigned to a Housing Case Manager, someone to check on them, assist them with setting personal goals, connecting with community resources and healthcare providers, securing additional furniture and household items, and generally advocating on their behalf.

How long these support services last depends upon the participant. Some may need very little follow up, while others, like those in Permanent Supportive Housing, may need long-term, intensive assistance.

Timing and Barriers


There are two key timelines in this process:

  • being matched to a housing program; and then
  • locating an available housing unit within that housing program.

Wait time to be matched to a housing program is contingent upon many factors, including whether the participant has children in their custody, the health and age of the participant, the participant’s veteran status, etc. Assignment to housing programs is not a first come, first served situation. Wait time could be anywhere from one week to several years or more, depending upon these factors, as well as limited options and availability.

Once matched to a housing program, the time to locate an approved, available unit and then move-in day is approximately 60 to 90 days, on average, depending upon unit availability and other barriers which may be particular to the participant.


Barriers to swift placement include:

  • Limited housing program options
  • Lack of available units
  • Lack of documents
  • Poor rental history
  • Criminal background
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of means of communication
  • Inability to locate the person

CoC member organizations’ staff work diligently to help participants overcome these barriers.

Housing First makes housing last.

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