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For years, there was a waiting list to get a spot in one of Fairfax County’s homeless shelters. Now, thanks to a revamping of the intake system, the waiting list is gone and the county says it is able to serve more clients with its existing resources.

Under the old system, a family that needed emergency help with housing was referred to an intake coordinator and placed on a wait list, ultimately ending up in the shelter. The wait list often had more than 100 families waiting for an average of four months just to get into the homeless shelter.

Under the new system, the intake coordinator is differentiating between clients who are literally homeless, meaning they have nowhere else to go, and those who are at risk of homelessness, such as people who are behind on rent and facing eviction or those who are temporarily staying with family members or friends.

Those who are literally homeless are referred to the shelter system, while those who still have a place to stay are referred to community case management.

While it may seem like a minor change, it has taken significant effort and coordination to change the system, said Tom Barnett, program manager in the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

“This is contrary to the way things have worked for 12 years or more, so this is a dramatic change for the better,” Barnett said.

The shifts have also incorporated a new tracking tool, to collect more information on clients in the system and better follow their outcomes.

“We know a lot more about where our population is coming from and their specific needs,” said Deputy County Executive Patricia Harrison. For example, she said, there are more people coming from domestic violence situations than previously thought.

The next steps in using this tracking tool will be to follow the end results for people who get homelessness prevention services or who go through the county shelters to see where those people eventually end up Harrison said.

“Not just are they in stable housing, but are they better off,” she said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com