The Big Picture: A Statewide Approach to Common Assessment

I am writing this about halfway through the first leg of the statewide SPDAT tour of Michigan. Michigan, in all her VAST glory, has joined a number of states and provinces that have decided that they want the same common assessment tool used across the entire State. Not just a community-by-community decision – a full, statewide implementation. Every Continuum of Care…all programs that get funding through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Department of Human Services or Department of Community Health…all regions…all types of communities (urban, rural, remote) – all using the exact same tool.

This was the State’s idea. OrgCode didn’t push it or sell them on the idea. And while they were not the first to go this route (hello forward thinking Newfoundland & Labrador), we applaud the State and the handful of other states and provinces that have gone this direction. We also hope that other States and Provinces considering going this route pay close attention.

It is a great idea to see the Big Picture and go statewide (or province wide) with implementation of the same common assessment tool. Here’s 10 reasons why:

  1.  Different funding sources doing work with the same population all work using the same language and approach to assessing needs, decreasing conflict across departments or funding sources.
  2.  State funding sources are aligned with federal funding sources in the use of the same tool.
  3.  The State doesn’t have to try and make sense of whether different tools are showing different acuity levels or really showing the same thing – or how to even translate it all – because they are all using the same tool throughout the entire state.
  4.  There is one State sponsored approach to training and creating an infrastructure of sustainability rather than Continuums trying to figure it out on their own.
  5.  There is a strong data infrastructure to make sense of how people’s lives are impacted statewide. How someone’s life is changed in Northern Michigan can be measured and understood exactly the same way as how we talk about someone’s life changing in Detroit.
  6.  There is a long-term view and commitment to common assessment. Because the state is implementing it across multiple Departments and making it statewide, this isn’t a “flash in the pan” decision to do something just to meet a HUD requirement. This is a thoughtful, long-term approach with requisite processes in place to ensure effectiveness.
  7.  It doesn’t matter if a person or family moves from one CoC to the next to get services. Their acuity score can follow them and/or the approach to measuring acuity will be the same. Service shopping across CoC borders is neutered.
  8.  It increases consistency in how coordinated access occurs. While there is still tweaking of processes at the local level, how and when the assessment fits into the mix is normalized.
  9.  It is fair and transparent to all people that experience homelessness in the State. A person who is homeless is not advantaged or disadvantaged by what tool may be in place and/or the training that goes into it based upon where in the state they try to access services.
  10.  It allows us (OrgCode) to more strategically provide longer-term support and work closely at the local and state level to ensure alignment with training objectives and approach with policy, funding and program expectations.


It is a great privilege to be part of this initiative in Michigan and to help better assess and support individuals and families experiencing homelessness statewide. We see the benefits from a policy, program and funding perspective. And we look forward to seeing the great volume of data that is likely to demonstrate how programs can also be improved on a statewide basis to ensure the state is moving even closer towards ending homelessness.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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