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Continuum of Care (CoC) Homeless Assistance Program

Continuum of Care is a program that coordinates and funds a wide range of services for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

What Is Continuum of Care?
The Continuum of Care (CoC) Homeless Assistance Program coordinates an array of services for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Much of the funding is provided through Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG). Nonprofit and government agencies at local and state levels place competitive bids for grants that will help them reach their goals of moving persons in need into permanent, affordable housing.

With the funding received from ESG, agencies that operate under the CoC Program are able to make a positive impact on their communities. Locally administered organizations working to secure decent housing can apply for funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and then cooperate in CoC strategic planning for their communities.

How Nonprofits Can Secure a Grant
ESG monies are channeled to programs which actively seek out and engage with people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Benefits extend to unaccompanied minors. Their programs include some basic components.

Street outreach - It is the goal of ESG to connect unsheltered homeless individuals and families with emergency shelters or housing.

Emergency and transitional shelter - Funds received through ESG may be used for purchase, lease, or rehabilitation of a building to provide housing support.

Prevention - The goals of stability and ending chronic homelessness make such costs as rent, utilities, and help with placement eligible for funding through ESG.

Data collection - Maintaining records for homeless persons can help to ensure that individuals do not become chronically homeless, drifting from shelter to shelter, never able to maintain permanence.

Supportive services - Families and individuals may need services such as childcare, education, job training, mental health services, transportation, or substance abuse treatment in order to maintain stable housing and avoid homelessness.

Permanent housing - Permanent housing is defined as community-based housing with no designated length of stay, but lasting at least through a one-year lease. At the permanent housing location, the recipient lives as independently as possible.

If your agency's mission aligns with the components of ESG, you can find additional information on bidding for a grant at the HUD Exchange website.

Planning a Strategy
As the title suggests, a Continuum of Care program offers a wide array of services and housing support with the goal of seeing individuals and families achieve self-sufficiency. Regional or local planning bodies offer strategies that coordinate and mainstream community resources and services.

Goals - CoC assists persons who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless wherever they are. Whether unsheltered, sheltered, or in transitional housing, persons in need should be helped to a stable housing arrangement. Maintaining suitable housing often requires intervention and support. From the task of finding suitable housing to the expense of paying the rent, homeless individuals benefit from a community united to find solutions.

Homelessness prevention - CoC programs examine causes of homelessness. They maintain a database of community resources so that individuals with an identified cause of homelessness can receive services from the appropriate agency. The goal is to provide support that will allow the at risk person to gain self-sufficiency. Coordinating community efforts helps to eliminate waste, close gaps, and channels resources to the greatest need at the time. With collaboration, agencies can share information and advocate for the at risk population.

Secure permanent, suitable housing - While advocates for the homeless share the common goal of ending homelessness, different philosophies are followed in achieving the goal.

Home ready philosophy - A "home ready" or "empowerment" philosophy addresses and attempts to resolve an individual's potential cause of homelessness. Individuals may receive job training, support finding employment, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services. Once the individual is making progress, an effort is made to transition the person from his temporary housing situation to a permanent stable home with a one-year lease.

Housing first philosophy - A "housing first" philosophy seeks to move an individual into permanent, stable housing first. It is believed that with housing resolved, the individual can make better progress toward addressing other challenging life issues.

Homeless shelter - It is difficult to imagine a world where temporary shelters would not continue to play an important role in the fight to end homelessness. Whether through housing in a converted warehouse or a hotel room, local agencies work to protect the homeless from exposure to weather or exposure to the danger on the streets. While permanent housing is the goal of CoC, homeless shelters which are able to provide daily nutritious meals and overnight beds still offer a valuable service in the community.

Transitional housing - Transitional shelters differ from overnight shelters in that they can provide a more permanent living arrangement with accommodations for up to two years. Ideally, persons receiving services in transitional housing become self-sustaining and are able to maintain permanent housing. In the event that the individual is not yet self-sustaining, residence in permanent supportive housing may be an option.

Community-wide planning - A key component of CoC is bringing a region's supporting agencies together to strategically address the greatest challenges of the homeless in that area. By sharing information and cooperating, communities can tailor their programs to meet the specific needs of the individuals and families that they serve.

Funding - By increasing revenue, nonprofit faith-based organizations as well as state and local agencies can provide more and better services to their clientele. Federal grants and private benefactors are necessary to fund the programs that will prevent chronic homelessness.

Tracking and management - An attempt is made to count the homeless population twice each year. Additionally, an inventory is made annually to calculate the emergency systems in place. Systems would include the beds in shelters as well as in transitional housing units. Analyzing statistics related to homelessness can help CoC agencies redirect services, funding, and resources when appropriate.

Continuum of Care programs are following the best practices to bring long-term stability to a community that needs support. Immediate, safe alternatives to sleeping on the street, access to services that facilitate self-sufficiency, and permanent, affordable housing are a few of the actions being taken by agencies that are serious about ending homelessness in their community.

For more information on HUD's homeless programs, visit the HUD website by clicking here.