What is a Continuum of Care?

The Continuum of Care (CoC) is a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximum self-sufficiency. It includes action steps to end homelessness and prevent a return to homelessness. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiated the Continuum of Care process in 1994 to encourage a coordinated, strategic approach to planning for programs that assist homeless individuals and families.

The CoC approach fundamentally reorganized the mechanism by which McKinney-Vento homeless assistance funds were awarded, consolidating Shelter Plus Care, Supportive Housing Program, and Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation for SRO into a single competitive grant process.

This change encouraged communities to develop comprehensive systems to address the range of needs of different homeless populations. To apply for these funds, jurisdictions must submit a Continuum of Care Plan that demonstrates broad participation of community stakeholders and that identifies the resources and gaps in the community’s approach to providing the range of homeless services. These services include: homelessness prevention; outreach; emergency, transitional, and permanent housing; and related services for people who are homeless. Community stakeholders determine local priorities for funding.

Fundamental components of a Continuum of Care system (as identified by HUD):

  • Outreach, intake, and assessment to (1) identify an individual’s or family’s service and housing needs, and (2) link them to appropriate housing and/or service resource.
  • Emergency shelter and safe, decent alternatives to the streets.
  • Transitional housing with supportive services to help people develop the skills necessary for permanent housing.
  • Permanent housing and permanent supportive housing.

In addition, a Continuum of Care system should include a focus on homelessness prevention strategies and services.