The language used by governments and agencies can sometimes be full of jargon or confusing, which makes it harder to understand exactly what an agency or organization is doing. Here are some definitions of common terms to make sure that our community understands what we’re talking about when we say:

Behavioral Health 

A term that covers the full range of mental and emotional well-being, from day-to-day challenges of life, to the treatment of mental illnesses, substance use disorders and other addictive behaviors.

By-Name List

A By-Name List is a data tool that identifies individuals by name and their specific needs and enables more effective case planning, service matching, and housing placement for people experiencing homelessness. The collection of real-time, accurate data for the By-Name List is facilitated by trusting relationships intentionally build by RHA Systems Advocates and partners in the field. The concept of a By-Name List has been successfully used in other communities in addressing youth homelessness, and by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in addressing veterans homelessness.

Case Management 

Housing-focused case management uses individually tailored assistance to address an individual, couple, or family’s immediate housing  crisis. Staff works with clients to identify and refer them to other resources in the community (e.g., mainstream services, benefit services, food assistance programs, childcare  resources, etc.) to support ongoing housing stability. Services are voluntary, housing-focused, person-centered and tailored to the needs of each household. Services can be increased through progressive engagement if more services are necessary for stabilization in housing.

Chronically Homeless

There are three categories of people who meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of chronically homeless.

  1. A homeless individual with a disability who:
    1. Lives in a place not meant for human habitation or in an emergency shelter; and
    2. Has been homeless (as described above) continuously for at least 12 months or on at least 4 separate occasions in the last 3 years where the combined occasions must total at least 12 months.
    3. Occasions separated by a break of at least seven nights.
    4. Stays in an institution of fewer than 90 days do not constitute a break.
  2. An individual who has been residing in an institutional care facility for fewer than 90 days and met all of the criteria in paragraph (1) of this definition, before entering that facility; or
  3. A family with an adult head of household (or if there is no adult in the family, a minor head of household) who meets all of the criteria in (1) or (2) of this definition, including a family whose composition has fluctuated while the head of household has been homeless.

Congregate Shelter 

Traditional, temporary overnight sheltering in facilities with large open spaces in which many bunks, cots, or mats are placed for sleeping. Shelters may have limited hours with a curfew at night and a required time of exit in the morning. Connection to services may or may not be provided.

Continuum of Care (CoC)

A federally required organization that coordinates federal funding and ensure compliance with federal law. The CoC lead entity and governing board was previously All Home, and is now the KCRHA. Our CoC is overseen by an Advisory Committee, and carries out the primary responsibilities of a CoC as identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

  1. Ensure collection of homeless system performance data (a “Homeless Management Information System” or HMIS)
  2. Establish and operate a coordinated needs assessment and referral process (“Coordinated Entry”)
  3. Perform analysis to identify gaps in regional homeless services needs.


Physical displacement is the forced movement of people, often as a result of eviction, acquisition, rehabilitation, or demolition of property, or the expiration of covenants on rent- or income-restricted housing. Physical displacement may also occur as a result of natural disasters, or refugee status. Economic displacement occurs when residents can no longer afford rising rents, mortgages or property taxes.


Diversion is an intervention that diverts a person from emergency shelter and prevents long-term homelessness by addressing immediate needs. For example, a service provider could use flexible financial resources for things like back rent, transportation, utilities, and deposits.

Emergency Housing

Temporary indoor lodging and accommodations for individuals or families who are experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, intended to address the basic health, food, clothing, and personal hygiene needs of individuals or families. Usually does not require occupants to enter into a lease or an occupancy agreement. See also RCW 35.21.683

Emergency Shelter

Emergency shelters are places where the primary purpose is to provide a temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness, and which does not require the person to sign a lease. 

Shelters can be “congregate,” in a communal space like one big room with several cots or mats, or “non-congregate,” where each person has a space that is separate from other people, like a room with walls or a “Tiny House Village.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an effort to provide more non-congregate options.

Most shelters serve specific categories like single adults (with males and females separated, and few options for trans or non-binary people), youth and young adults, or families with children. Many shelters do not allow pets. Many shelters do not have storage for belongings. Some shelters are only open for limited hours, for example an overnight shelter might have a curfew of 10:00pm and require people to be up and out by 7:00am. Some shelters have requirements that must be met before a person is allowed stay there. Many shelters are “enhanced,” which means they provide access to supportive services.

Functional Zero

Functional Zero is achieved when there are enough services, housing and shelter beds for everyone who needs it. Functional Zero means that our system has reached a point where it is able to adequately serve the people who we are attempting to reach, by appropriately providing interventions based on their needs. 

Functional Zero is not Absolute Zero, which would mean that there is no homelessness at all.

In addressing Veterans Homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says that functional zero is reached when the number of veterans experiencing homelessness within a community is less than the average number of veterans being connected with permanent housing each month.

High Acuity 

A combination of two or more of the following: 

  • High behavioral health needs including psychotic spectrum disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder)
  • Substance Use Disorder (Using opioids, methamphetamines)
  • Physical Health challenges (chronic disease, disability)

Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)

A web-based software application designed to record and store person-level information regarding the service needs and history of households experiencing homelessness throughout a Continuum of Care jurisdiction, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Housing First

Housing First is an evidence-based approach that recognizes that housing, and the security and stability it offers, is necessary to address any other underlying medical, mental health, or addiction issues a person may be facing. Housing First is not housing only; Housing First addresses the greatest and most impactful need first—safety and stability—and then facilitates successful use of supportive services, including healthcare and treatment, as well as services that support employment, education, and other efforts towards self-sufficiency.

Interlocal Agreement

A written contract between local government agencies such as a city, a county, a special jurisdiction like Sound Transit, or a school board. Read the RHA’s Interlocal Agreement between the City of Seattle and King County.

Lived Experience / Expertise

An individual who has personally experienced homelessness, housing instability, barriers to obtaining housing and/or difficulty navigating health, housing, or social service systems, and then uses that expertise to inform better system design.

Low Barrier

Low barrier minimizes barriers such as paperwork, waiting lists, eligibility requirements and assessments that can stand in the way of clients getting their needs met. 

A low barrier shelter is an emergency shelter that does not require any of the following for a client to stay at the shelter: criminal background checks; credit checks; income verification; program participation; sobriety or identification.


A type of housing and/or shelter in which each individual or family has living space that offers a level of privacy such as a hotel or motel.


Outreach meets people experiencing homelessness where they are, in order to build trust and create a bridge to services. Outreach workers engage face-to-face with people living unsheltered in places like cars, RVs, parks, encampments, and abandoned buildings, making frequent attempts to establish a relationship in a flexible, empathetic, respectful, non-judgmental and trauma-informed way. Outreach workers often have lived expertise, and may also be specially trained in de-escalation techniques. Outreach workers help ensure that basic needs are met and connect people to shelters, housing, and supportive services. However, outreach workers are not case managers.

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)

Permanent Supportive Housing combines permanent housing with supportive services. The permanent housing usually includes long-term leases or rental assistance. Supportive services can include things like case management, food, child care, education services, employment assistance and job training, legal services, mental health services, behavioral health services, substance use disorder services, and transportation.

Public Housing Authority (PHA)

A government agency that provides decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income individuals and families, the elderly, and people with disabilities. In King County, there are three PHAs: the Seattle Housing Authority, the King County Housing Authority, and the Renton Housing Authority.

Rapid Re-Housing (RRH)

Rapid Re-Housing provides short-term rental assistance and supportive services, without any pre-conditions or requirements (such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, or sobriety) . The services provided are tailored to the person’s needs. In King County, Rapid Re-Housing providers partner with Housing Connector. Learn more in the guidelines.


When we talk about resources for the homeless crisis response system, we mean the people, funding, logistics, and technology that support the administration and provision of services.

Service Match

Service matching is the process of matching a housing intervention to a person’s particular circumstances so that person’s needs are met with judicious use of public resources.

Support Services

Support services is a broad category that can include things like case management, food, child care, mental health services, behavioral health services, substance use disorder services, education services, employment assistance and job training, legal services, and transportation.

Transitional Housing

Temporary housing with a range of voluntary support services designed to be a bridge between emergency shelter and permanent housing. Sometimes called “emergency housing” (see above) or “lodging.”

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is a framework that involves:

  • Understanding the prevalence and recognizing the effects of trauma and adversity on health and behavior;
  • Training leadership, providers, and staff on responding to patients with best practices in trauma-informed care;
  • Integrating knowledge about trauma and adversity into policies, procedures, practices and treatment planning; and
  • Avoiding re-traumatization by approaching patients who have experienced ACEs and/or other adversities with non-judgmental support. (SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach, 2014)


A system is a set of things (for example, cells, people, organizations, etc.) that are interconnected in order behave in a certain way to achieve a particular purpose. In our case, the purpose of the RHA is to end homelessness.