2022 Edition

Shelter Services (CA-SH) 3: Intake and Assessment

The organization’s intake and assessment practices ensure that persons served receive prompt and responsive access to appropriate services.

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Shelter Services meet the basic needs of individuals and families who are homeless or in transition, support family stabilization or independent living, and facilitate access to services and permanent housing.
All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, as indicated by full implementation of the practices outlined in the Practice Standards.
Practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards; e.g.,
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality; or
  • Procedures need strengthening; or
  • With few exceptions, procedures are understood by staff and are being used; or
  • In a few rare instances, urgent needs were not prioritized; or
  • For the most part, established timeframes are met; or
  • Culturally responsive assessments are the norm and any issues with individual staff members are being addressed through performance evaluations and training; or
  • Active client participation occurs to a considerable extent.
Practice requires significant improvement, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards. Service quality or program functioning may be compromised; e.g.,
  • Procedures and/or case record documentation need significant strengthening; or
  • Procedures are not well-understood or used appropriately; or
  • Urgent needs are often not prioritized; or 
  • Services are frequently not initiated in a timely manner; or
  • Applicants are not receiving referrals, as appropriate; or 
  • Assessment and reassessment timeframes are often missed; or
  • Assessments are sometimes not sufficiently individualized; 
  • Culturally responsive assessments are not the norm, and this is not being addressed in supervision or training; or
  • Several client records are missing important information; or
  • Client participation is inconsistent; or
  • Intake or assessment is done by another organization or referral source and no documentation and/or summary of required information is present in case record. 
Implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards; e.g.,
  • There are no written procedures, or procedures are clearly inadequate or not being used; or
  • Documentation is routinely incomplete and/or missing.  
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Screening and intake procedures
  • Copy of screening tool(s)
  • Assessment procedures
  • Copy of assessment tool(s)
  • Community resource and referral list
  • Documentation of collaboration with other community providers and resources
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Persons served
  • Review case records


CA-SH 3.01

Individuals or families are admitted regardless of ability to pay, employment status, level of income, criminal record, or sobriety.


If services are limited to a specific population, the program should have a clear policy for such selectivity.

Fundamental Practice

CA-SH 3.02

Prompt, responsive intake practices:
  1. are trauma-informed;
  2. are non-stigmatizing and non-judgmental;
  3. are culturally and linguistically responsive;
  4. give priority to urgent needs and emergency situations;
  5. support timely initiation of services; and
  6. provide placement on a waiting list or referral to appropriate resources when individuals cannot be served or cannot be served promptly.


Infants and young children who are abandoned at a program site or are not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian should be referred to the child protection authority.


For basic emergency shelters and enhanced emergency shelters, intake should occur on the same day that services are requested.


To ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming service recipients are treated with respect and feel safe, service recipient choice regarding their first names and pronouns should be respected and intake forms and procedures should allow individuals to self-identify their gender and receive access to sleeping quarters, bathroom facilities, and shower facilities, in accordance with applicable legal, regulatory, and/or contractual requirements.


Trauma-informed intake practices explore whether a service recipient has been exposed to traumatic events and exhibits trauma-related symptoms and/or mental health disorders. A positive screen indicates that an assessment or further evaluation by a trained professional is warranted. During the screening process, service recipients should feel emotionally and physically safe.

Fundamental Practice

CA-SH 3.03

Service recipients participate in an intake screening that includes:
  1. gathering personal and identifying information;
  2. health status, including emergency health needs;
  3. recent housing status;
  4. reason for homelessness;
  5. history of homelessness;
  6. the potential for violence or victimization; and
  7. risk for suicide.
NA Another organization is responsible for screening, as defined in a contract.
Examples: Organizations can respond to identified suicide risk by connecting the individual to more intensive services; facilitating the development of a safety and/or crisis plan; or contacting emergency responders, 24-hour mobile crisis teams, emergency crisis intervention services, crisis stabilisation, or 24-hour crisis hotlines, as appropriate.

Fundamental Practice

CA-SH 3.04

Children and youth receive an age-appropriate intake screening that includes: 
  1. gathering personal and identifying information;
  2. health status, including emergency health needs; and
  3. education status, including enrollment in early childhood education or school.
NA Another organization is responsible for screening, as defined in a contract.

NA The organization does not admit families with children or children and youth without their parents.


CA-SH 3.05

Persons served participate in an individualized, culturally, and linguistically responsive assessment that is:
  1. completed within established timeframes, generally within two weeks of intake; 
  2. updated as needed based on the needs of persons served; and
  3. focused on information pertinent for meeting service requests and objectives.


The Assessment Matrix - Private, Public, Canadian, Network determines which level of assessment is required for COA’s Service Sections. The assessment elements of the Matrix can be tailored according to the needs of specific individuals or service design.
NA The organization only provides basic emergency shelter.
Examples: The frequency of updates to assessments can vary depending on the ages and needs of service recipients. For example, updates may be conducted more frequently for young children due to the rapid pace of their development.


CA-SH 3.06

A comprehensive assessment includes, as appropriate:
  1. employment history;
  2. mainstream benefits history;
  3. housing history for the past five years;
  4. housing barriers;
  5. housing goals and preferences;
  6. veteran status;
  7. level of education and educational goals;
  8. income and resources;
  9. substance use history;
  10. mental health history, diagnoses, and medications;
  11. developmental disability status and history;
  12. family functioning, parental stress, and parenting skills;
  13. a social network inventory, including relationships with family, friends, and/or significant others;
  14. history of childhood victimization and trauma; and
  15. history of adult victimization, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, and imminent and long-term safety concerns.


Personnel that conduct assessments should be aware of the indicators of a potential trafficking victim, including, but not limited to: 
  1. evidence of mental, physical, or sexual abuse; 
  2. physical exhaustion; 
  3. working long hours; 
  4. living with employer or many people in confined area; 
  5. unclear family relationships; 
  6. heightened sense of fear or distrust of authority; 
  7. presence of older male boyfriend or pimp; 
  8. loyalty or positive feelings towards an abuser; 
  9. inability or fear of making eye contact; 
  10. chronic running away or homelessness; 
  11. possession of excess amounts of cash or hotel keys; and 
  12. inability to provide a local address or information about parents.
Several tools are available to help identify a potential victim of trafficking and determine next steps toward an appropriate course of treatment. Examples of these tools include, but are not limited to, the Rapid Screening Tool for Child Trafficking and the Comprehensive Screening and Safety Tool for Child Trafficking.
NA The organization only provides basic emergency shelter.
Examples: Regarding element (n), assessments may explore a range of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; violence in the home; household substance use; mental illness in the household; parental divorce or separation; household members with criminal justice involvement; and emotional and physical neglect.


CA-SH 3.07

Children and youth receive a comprehensive, age-appropriate assessment that:
  1. evaluates their cognitive, language, motor, behavioural, and social-emotional development; and
  2. takes into account involvement in education, child protection, and/or youth justice systems.


To help decrease family rejection and increase family support for youth who identify as LGBTQ, the assessment should include a network inventory of family relationships, experiences with family rejection, capacity for increasing family acceptance and support, and specific culturally-appropriate education and guidance.
NA The organization only provides basic emergency shelter.

NA The organization does not admit families with children or children and youth without their parents.


CA-SH 3.08

Programs facilitate access to the continuum of services through active collaboration with other homelessness service providers and community resources.
Examples: Organizations may collaborate through their community’s coordinated entry processes, if available. Coordinated entry provides equal, nondiscriminatory access to appropriate services regardless of where service recipients present for assistance, and connects service recipients to all available community programs and services, as appropriate. Coordinated entry processes provide access to providers delivering a wide range of services, including both homeless-specific programs and services for the general population. Examples include shelters for domestic violence survivors, runaway and homeless youth programs, street outreach services, homelessness prevention programs, emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, programs for veterans, LGBTQ-affirming services and supports, providers of mainstream benefits and services, health and mental health clinics, employment services, and child development programs.