System Planning & Integration in Brief

What does a system planning and integration approach to youth homelessness entail? Efforts to end homelessness using system planning have been documented generally, but less has been done on youth-specific system planning.

As per the definition, a system is the integrated whole comprised of defined components working towards a common end. System planning requires a way of thinking that recognizes the basic components of a particular system and understands how these relate to one another as well as their basic function as part of the whole. Processes that ensure alignment across the system are integral to ensure components work together for maximum impact.

Applying this concept to youth homelessness, a homeless-serving system comprises a diversity of local or regional service delivery components serving youth who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness.

Integration is about working together to improve results, which can take the form of a collaborative arrangement. System-level integration can entail centralized management and funding, while at the service level it can involve the coordinated delivery of services both within (vertical integration) and/or between (horizontal integration) sectors and agencies.[1]

A plan to end youth homelessness is a call to address service and policy coordination and integration differently; it entails the restructuring of an entire local system's approach to youth homelessness following a new vision, as well as the integration of that system with others targeting homeless and at-risk youth. System planning requires a reorganization of the service delivery landscape using these shared principles, tying together the activities of diverse stakeholders across diverse systems toward the shared goal of reducing and preventing youth homelessness.

Housing and Urban Development’s evaluation of homeless-serving systems in the U.S. found that successful integration was achieved when specific strategies were applied between systems, such as common policies and protocols, shared information, coordinated service delivery and training. In addition, the following were also recommended:

  • Having staff with the responsibility to promote systems/service integration;
  • Creating a local interagency coordinating body;
  • Having a centralized authority for the homeless assistance system;
  • Co-locating mainstream services within homeless-specific agencies and programs; and
  • Adopting and using an interagency information management system.

These integration strategies can be applied in a range of contexts to improve outcomes, for instance programs within the same agency, between different agencies and between sectors of agencies.

The scale at which integration efforts are implemented will determine which strategies are best suited to achieve intended outcomes; further, the types of services that require integration will further impact the tailored approach moving forward. Several U.S. studies suggest that service coordination closest to the client is more effective than broader top-down structural integration measures in terms of individual housing and health outcomes.[2] Ultimately we need to ensure client and structural strategies are aligned first and foremost with impacting client-level results[3].

Table 5: Integration Strategies

(service delivery level)

(program/organization/policy level)

Shared information system


Joint staff training

Interagency meetings

Common application/referral processes

Joint delivery processes

Staff secondments

Staff recruitment and volunteer programs

Case conferencing/review

Local resource registers

Provider-produced good practice guidelines

Monitoring and evaluation



Shared guidelines

Common targeting strategies

Joint/pool funding arrangements


Memorandums of understanding

Joint strategic/policy documents

Agency /program amalgamations

Shared resources (inc. transport)

Joint administrative processes

Joint planning

Cross and peer training

Local forums/seminars/conferences

Integration pilots or demonstration projects

Monitoring and evaluation

Regular promotions and publications

The table below summarizes the essentials of system planning and integration through a youth lens.

Table 6: System Planning Elements



Planning & Strategy Development

Local strategy follows shared vision and principles grounded in evidence-based practice to end youth homelessness.



Development of shared planning approaches across systems targeting common target population.

Organizational Infrastructure

Organizational infrastructure is in place to implement youth homelessness plan and coordinate the homeless-serving system to meet common goals.



Coordinating infrastructure to lead integration efforts across systems is established.

System Mapping

Making sense of existing services serving youth and creating order moving forward.



Extending service mapping to document populations experiencing homelessness and housing instability touch points across systems.

Coordinated Service Delivery

Ensuring key system alignment processes including coordinated entry, assessment and prioritization are in place to facilitate access and flow through services for best individual and system-level outcomes.



Development of coordinated access, assessment and prioritization to determine service matching for clients across systems using shared processes & facilitate integrated service delivery.

Integrated Information Management

Shared information system aligns data collection, reporting, coordinated entry, assessment, referrals and service coordination in the homeless youth-serving system.



Extending the use of a shared information system or developing data bridges among existing systems to enable information sharing for service coordination and planning purposes.

Performance Management & Quality Assurance

Performance expectations at the program and system levels are articulated; these are aligned and monitored along set service standards to achieve best outcomes for youth. Resources are in place to support uptake across organizational levels.



Common indicators are developed across similar service types and at system levels to articulate how components fit as part of broader whole. Service quality standards are in place across systems providing similar function, reinforced through monitoring and capacity building.

[1] Browne, Gina, Dawn Kingston, Valerie Grdisa, and Maureen Markle-Reid. 2007. "Conceptualization and measurement of integrated human service networks for evaluation." International Journal of Integrated Care no. Oct.-Dec.:e51.



[2] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. 2002. Evaluation of Continuums of Care For Homeless People Final Report.



Hambrick, Ralph, and Debra Rog. 2000. "The Pursuit of Coordination: The Organizational Dimension in the Response to Homelessness." Policy Studies Journal no. 28 (2):353-364.



[3] Evans, T., Neale, K., Buultjens, J., & Davies, T. (2011). Service integration in a regional homelessness service system. Lismore, New South Wales, Australia: Northern Rivers Social Development Council. p. 30.