A Primer on the Continuum of Care Program That Helps Address Homelessness

If you operate or plan to operate a permanent or transitional housing program and you are not familiar with the Continuum of Care program, keep reading to learn more about the community-driven collaborative process that steers HUD funding to organizations that serve the homeless in communities around the country.

Before Congress passed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH Act) in 2009, the three HUD-funded homeless assistance programs were the Shelter Plus Care program (S+C), Supportive Housing Program (SHP) and Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy (SRO) program.

The HEARTH Act consolidated these three separate programs into one Continuum of Care (CoC) program and it strengthened and streamlined the CoC planning process that has been in place since 1995. It also required greater collaboration between recipients of Emergency Solutions Grants. In fact, Grants Works’ founder and the author of this post managed S+C and SHP grants for five years and helped facilitate an Atlanta nonprofit’s transition to the CoC program.

What is the Continuum of Care program?

The Continuum of Care program was created to help homeless individuals, including unaccompanied youth, and families find transitional and permanent housing and the supportive services needed to remain housed.

The CoC planning process requires community-wide planning, coordination, and data collection so each community can tailor grant funding to match the housing needs of that specific community. Each community led CoC then applies for homeless assistance funding for nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, and public housing agencies. CoCs are incentivized to submit the best, data-driven application to HUD as the funding is competitively ranked.

Below are the four necessary functions of a continuum:

  1. coordinated outreach, intake and assessment to identify housing and service needs
  2. emergency shelter to prevent individuals and families from sleeping on the streets
  3. transitional housing with supportive services to facilitate independent living in permanent housing
  4. permanent and permanent supportive housing.

What kind of homeless assistance does the CoC fund?

The five program components that are funded by the CoC program are: 

  1. Permanent housing (permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing)
  2. Transitional housing
  3. Supportive services only
  4. Housing Management Information Systems (HMIS) providers
  5. Homelessness prevention (for high-performing communities only)

What exactly does each CoC do?

Each CoC is defined by a certain geographic area. States typically have more than one CoC.  For example, the Houston CoC’s lead agency and HMIS lead agency is The Way Home and the collaborative process serves Houston, Pasadena, Harris County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County. Austin’s Continuum of Care is led by ECHO and it coordinates providers in Austin and Travis County. Partners for Home serves as the collaborative applicant for the City of Atlanta Continuum of Care. Meanwhile, the Fulton County 502 Continuum of Care coordinates homeless providers in other parts of Fulton County, Georgia (City of Atlanta is in Fulton County).

In addition to other responsibilities, HUD mandates that each CoC do the following:

  1. Coordinate nonprofit housing organizations and victim service providers, for profit entities, and local and state governments to address homelessness
  2. Review and approve the CoC consolidated application in response to HUD’s annual Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA)
  3. Designate an applicant that will apply on behalf of all the applicants in the CoC
  4. Establish a board and governance charter
  5. Designate and operate an HMIS
  6. Identify service gaps and establish performance targets
  7. Evaluate and report outcomes to HUD
  8. Conduct a Point-in-Time count of homeless citizens in the CoC

What are some of the eligible project costs that can be funded with CoC program funds?

While there may be some restrictions on the combination or application of funds for certain programs, eligible costs include acquisition of real property, rehabilitation of structures, new construction, leasing costs, rental assistance, supportive services, operating costs, HMIS and project administration. Rental assistance can be used for tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA), sponsor-based rental assistance (SBRA) and project-based rental assistance (PBRA).  NOTE: There are cash- or in-kind match requirements for all eligible costs except leasing.

How do I find a local CoC?

HUD created a comprehensive list of current CoC contacts by state. You can also do an online search of your city’s CoC (e.g. Google ‘Baltimore Continuum of Care’).

Here is a link to the HEARTH Act in the Federal Register. For help with navigating the requirements of the CoC program, contact Grants Works.

How do I learn more about federal funding?

Grants Works has hosted several webinars that taught participants to optimize the search for federal funding opportunities, how to apply for federal grants, and spot key details in federal funding announcements. We also provide an overview of federal funding and a number of federal resources. The full replay and detailed slides from one of the webinars is available here.