Bright Spot: Arlington, VA | Homelessness Prevention Screening Tool

September 20, 2019

Coordinate the shared use of a diversion screening tool to implement standard protocols across all agencies serving as system access points

Check out this bright spot if…

  • You want to implement processes to prevent homelessness earlier in the system
  • You want to try it!


Arlington’s diversion program changes the direction of an individual or family from homelessness to housing through an alternative intervention. The specific intervention for each individual/household is chosen through screening tools and assessments.

Before Arlington County began its diversion program, many individuals and households who needed only a simple, short-term housing intervention were unnecessarily entering the homeless system. The community found that by offering diversion  and prevention services they could dramatically reduce the number of individuals and households entering their coordinated entry system.

Though many factors contribute to homelessness, in northern Virginia the gap between affordable housing units and the number of people who need them is continually widening. Additionally the cost of emergency shelter is greater than the average annual cost of a federal housing subsidy. Successful diversion practices in Arlington have both minimized the use of expensive emergency shelter and reduced the likelihood that a household experiencing a housing crisis or housing instability will become homeless.

Arlington’s Diversion Specialist received a total of 285 diversion referrals in 2015, and 111 of those referrals were completely diverted from the homeless system. Arlington reached functional zero for veterans in December 2015 and maintains an impressively low veteran inflow rate of 0-1 veterans per month, due in part to strong diversion from their coordinated entry system.

Key Action: Implement Assessments for Diversion/Prevention into the Coordinated Entry System

In Arlington County, diversion is the entry point of Arlington’s Centralized Access System (CAS), which establishes a framework for efficiency and cross collaboration within the system. The goal of Arlington’s CAS is to facilitate an individual or household’s exit from homelessness to stable housing in the most rapid manner possible given available resources. CAS is a 24-hour crisis response system that includes an after-hours hotline and leverages HMIS data and infrastructure by providing information in real time (referrals, demographics, consents, etc.). 

In order to make exits fast, they employ three separate screening tools to get a better picture of the household’s level of housing stability and what resources might be most appropriate for the household. 

Key Action: Adaptability to Other Contexts

Innovative use of several standardized assessment tools to identify households that may be able to be diverted from the homeless system is replicable in other communities nationwide. The concept of asking baseline informational questions with a housing stability framework and then mediating or providing a housing intervention service based on the data may be an important turn for those working to end veteran and chronic homelessness.

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