By: Tia Alexander, Project Coordinator at STEH

In an emergency, communities like ours are fortunate to have a network of resources available for people in need. When someone’s employment hours are cut, their children are sick, benefits decrease, or they have unexpected medical expenses most people can name at least one familiar community resource to turn to for utility, rental, food, daycare, employment or education resources. But what happens when someone has no place to stay, and needs emergency shelter?

Until a few years ago, when a person experienced a housing crisis, they had to call each individual agency that provides homelessness prevention or emergency shelter services separately in order to find such services. Recognizing that this represented an undue burden to people who were already in need, in March 2008 Strategies to End Homelessness opened the Central Access Point hotline.

The Central Access Point (CAP), is Hamilton County’s centralized intake system for families and individuals experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of becoming homeless. CAP intake specialists are available via phone or text 7 days out of the week to connect people in need to the most appropriate housing services. Intake specialists conduct all aspects of information gathering and subsequent placements into shelter and services over the phone. Individuals go directly to the one of our partner agencies to enter services, saving both time and resources.

CAP takes calls from Veterans, single men, women, and youth and makes placements into appropriate shelters, including The St. Francis-St. Joseph Catholic Worker House, City Gospel Mission, Lighthouse Sheakley Center For Youth, and Shelterhouse’s Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women.

Similarly, CAP serves families in need, making placements into three emergency family shelters: the Salvation Army, Interfaith Hospitality Network and the Bethany House, accept single women with children, single men with children, and partners with children.

CAP intake specialists recognize the uniqueness of every caller’s situation. Therefore, every caller is screened to determine the most appropriate service. All shelter agencies and programs to which CAP makes referrals are also unique; in addition to different requirements, they serve different populations and provide different services. CAP intake specialists prioritize the best placement for both individuals and partner agencies, and coordinates with partner agencies and community resources that we do not make direct placement into, such as outreach.

CAP also completes screenings and intakes into the Shelter Diversion homelessness prevention program, and makes referrals to six partner agencies, including Bethany House Services, FreestoreFoodbank, Jewish Family Service, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Lighthouse Youth Services and Santa Maria Community Services. This program diverts those at shelter’s door from having to go into shelter. Additionally, CAP provides veteran referrals to the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) and Talbert House’s Parkway Center Transitional Housing. In 2016, Shelter Diversion received 182 referrals, Supportive Services for Veteran Families received 52 referrals and Parkway Center Transitional Housing received 192 CAP placements.

To get a sense of the volume of calls we receive and screen, in 2016, CAP intake specialists answered 24,153 calls from 3,934 individual, documented callers. Of those callers, 1,372 placements into shelters, shelter diversion, supportive services for veterans’ families and Parkway Center transitional housing were made.

So, what should an individual contacting the CAP Line expect?

To begin, they should expect to speak with a friendly, knowledgeable intake specialist. Between the two full time specialists and one part time specialist, CAP’s intake specialists have over 40 combined years of experience. Individuals should also expect to be asked to provide basic identification details, along with information specific to their current situation. Intake specialists use this information to complete a confidential intake, screen for services, and create a record of each individual call. If the CAP intake specialist identifies a placement that is both appropriate  and available, they provide specific shelter, program and other information at that time.

Unfortunately, because of limited resources, placement may not be immediately available the first time people call. That is why CAP Intake Specialists strive to be more than just a call center; they are a lifeline to our neighbors in crisis. A compassionate, listening ear is no substitute for material resources, but provides a welcome reprieve to individuals in crisis.

At STEH, we believe that everyone has the right to stable housing, and the resources needed to maintain it. If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness or will be soon, please call the CAP Line at 513-381-7233, or text via 513-970-1515 to be connected to available resources in Hamilton County.