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:


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.

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 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.

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.


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.

Systems Advocates

Systems Advocates use a peer navigation model do outreach to our unhoused neighbors and add-on a long-term commitment to stay with a particular person experiencing homelessness, offering support and advice as a coach, ally, and advocate through multiple organizations across the health care system, criminal justice system, and social services system, as a person moves from homeless to housed. Learn more about RHA’s Systems Advocates Team.

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.

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” or “lodging.”


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.