Services in the CoC Program: A Guide to Assessing Value and Finding Funding Alternatives

January 16, 2014

This information is intended to help Continuums of Care (CoC) and recipients of CoC Program funding make strategic decisions regarding the use of CoC Program funds for supportive services. CoCs should use these steps to make assessments about whether or not services are contributing to efforts to end homelessness and learn which types of CoC Program-eligible supportive services are most likely to have mainstream HHS-funded programs as an alternative source.

Many communities use funding from HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) Program to pay for supportive services for people experiencing homelessness. These services can be provided to people currently experiencing homelessness who are residing on the streets, in shelters, or transitional housing, or to people receiving services as part of permanent housing models, such as permanent supportive housing or rapid re-housing programs.

Using CoC Program funds to pay for these services is permitted. The CoC Program interim rule defines 17 categories of supportive services that are eligible costs under the CoC Program. At the same time, using CoC Program funding to pay for supportive service costs may not always be the most strategic way to use these funds. This is for two primary reasons:

  • The CoC Program remains one of the only federal programs that can fund permanent housing specifically for people experiencing  homelessness. As evidence shows that permanent housing models, such as permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing, are the most effective interventions for ending homelessness, CoCs and project recipients should use CoC Program funds to pay for the costs associated with providing housing which are not funded through other sources.
  • Many services that are essential to ending homelessness may also be financed through mainstream programs, including programs administered or overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

As part of your community planning and preparations for the application submission, CoCs have an important opportunity to assess whether they are using their program funding in the most strategic way possible to advance local goals of ending homelessness.

Such an assessment can:

  1. Identify projects or project costs for reconsideration that do not contribute directly to a community’s ability to end homelessness.
  2. Reveal project costs within the CoC inventory that could be funded through alternative (non-CoC) sources, thereby allowing the potential to ‘free up’ a portion of funding that could in turn be shifted to housing.

The potential for identifying non-CoC funding alternatives may be greatest for project costs related to supportive services. Therefore, a key starting point for this strategic assessment is to examine the grants funded under the CoC Program that are currently used to pay for supportive service costs. For more information on the importance of assessing the strategic value of CoC Program-funded supportive services, visit HUD’s SNAPS Weekly Focus: Leveraging Mainstream Services Funding .

Step 1. Take inventory of all CoC Program-funded grants that pay for supportive services

This inventory should include all of the CoC Program-funded grant programs that include a supportive services budget line item in the grant agreement. This includes Supportive Services Only (SSO) projects where supportive services are provided to homeless individuals and families not residing in housing operated by the grant recipient, as well as Permanent Housing (PH) and Transitional Housing (TH) projects where supportive service funds are funded through the CoC Program to pay for supportive services for participants in a housing program.

CoCs may choose to start by considering the projects that are eligible for renewal in the upcoming CoC Program competition or conduct longer-range planning for programs up for renewal in the next few years.

CoCs can create a list or table of all grants in their inventory that pay for supportive services using CoC Program funds. The table (see example below) should, at a minimum, include the name of the project, name of the recipient, the component, the total grant amount, the amount of funds that pay for supportive services, and the year the most recent grant was awarded:

Step 2.  Assess strategic value of supportive services

Once CoCs have compiled the inventory of SSO grants and grants with services costs, they can conduct a review of these grants to assess their strategic value. For each of the grants in this list, CoCs can ask the following three questions:

  • Are the supportive services essential to exiting people from homelessness to permanent housing as quickly as possible or to support their long-term stability in permanent housing?
  • Are the supportive services serving the highest need people experiencing homelessness?
  • Are the supportive services performing with the highest quality, meeting or exceeding program quality standards, if established, and implementing evidence-based practices?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘NO,’ the services may not be the most strategic use of CoC program funds.  CoCs should strongly consider reducing funds for these services, either in whole or in part, and reallocating those funds to either a new permanent supportive housing or rapid re-housing program.

If the answer to all three questions is “YES”, the services may be of high strategic value in ending homelessness.  At the same time, given the limited availability of CoC program funds and the lack of alternative sources that create permanent housing specific to people experiencing homelessness, CoCs are encouraged to determine if there are other ways to finance or provide these services to free up more funds for housing.

Step 3: Determine likelihood of services being provided through alternate source of funds or partnerships

CoCs should then consider the following set of questions:

How great is the potential for alternative (non-CoC program) sources of funds which can pay for some or all of the supportive services? Are there partnerships with other services providers who are funded by non-CoC program funds who can provide these services instead?

If the answer to either of these questions is ‘YES,’ CoCs may be able to leverage these alternative non-CoC program sources or enter into partnerships with existing services providers to offset and therefore free-up CoC funds to create more permanent housing. Doing so will increase the total pool of resources for homelessness programs and create more permanent housing.

Step 4: Determine strategic approach based upon assessment

Depending upon the degree to which there are alternative sources or partnerships that can provide these services, CoCs should determine the most appropriate strategy:

Step 5. Seek non-CoC program services or enter into services partnerships

Where it is determined that a non-CoC program funding source or partnership with an existing services provider is available, CoCs and project recipients should refer the information provided on the HHS programs page to find more information about how the each funding source can be accessed.  CoCs should make sure that all of its project recipients are informed about the mainstream funding options that may be available.