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Cowlitz County will receive additional extra state money to help the homeless over the next two years, but the county commissioners plan to change how some of the money is spent. The commissioners Tuesday approved a $3 million, two-year grant agreement with the state Department of Commerce. That’s up from $2.4 million over the prior biannual grant.

In the next couple of weeks, the commissioners will decide how to allocate the state money and an estimated $800,000 raised by the county Document Recording Fee, said Gena James, county human services manager.

The majority of the Commerce grant money likely will continue to go to the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program, which is run by Lower Columbia CAP. The program provides essential needs items or rental assistance for low-income individuals who are temporarily unable to work.

Over the last two years, the Cowlitz County HEN program served 406 clients, and 77% of those who exited the program were permanently housed, James said. Some of the Commerce money will also help fund coordinated entry, which is primarily funded by Document Recording Fees, James said.

Coordinated entry assesses and connects homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless to resources.

The county currently contracts with Love Overwhelming to run coordinated entry. But commissioners intend to seek other agencies to take over the task. At a recent workshop, they expressed dissatisfaction with the job Love Overwhelming is doing and said they want entry assessment to be more efficient. They also intend to shift some of the work to the county’s own Human Services department.

In the next few months, James and her staff will also develop a request for proposal specific to coordinated entry. The county hopes to receive multiple proposals and would then review and issue an award and contract next year.

People who access coordinated entry are assessed and given a vulnerability score based on medical needs, disability, veteran status, substance use, mental health and more. They are placed on a priority list based on that score and are then referred to housing if there is any available.

In 2018, only 9% of people assessed got into a housing program, partly because the area has a shortage of available housing, James said.

James proposed changing the coordinated entry assessment to concentrate on people more likely to get into a housing program. Others will be connected to other services before being placed on the priority list.

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