Vulnerability Assessment Tool

The people we serve are among the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community. Many live with one or more major disability or life problem that contributes to their becoming or remaining homeless. Behavioral health and substance use disorders and physical or developmental disabilities are among the most common issues.

Serving those most in need

Community shelters traditionally provided beds on a first-come, first-served basis. This often left the lowest-functioning and least assertive clients out in the cold. In line with our mission, DESC staff created a Vulnerability Assessment Tool (VAT) to help determine who is most likely to be victimized or harmed on the streets. It rates a person’s functioning level, health and other characteristics relevant to their personal health and safety. Those who are most in need are served first at DESC.

We first used the VAT in 2003 in the former main shelter program. With more people in need than available beds, staff could use individual vulnerability ratings to assign beds to those most at risk. With the VAT’s success in the shelter program, DESC’s supportive housing program began using it for housing placements.

Studies confirm VAT’s usefulness

Researchers have rigorously studied the VAT and we have modified it several times.

  • The University of Washington completed an evaluation of the VAT in March 2010, concluding that it held strong properties of both reliability and validity.
  • The Canadian Housing First Assessment Taskforce created by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness evaluated the VAT in 2015, and found DESC’s VAT to be the best brief screening tool available to screen and prioritize people experiencing homelessness into Housing First services.

Other homeless service providers across the nation now widely recognize DESC’s VAT as a viable tool for placing chronically homeless people into supportive housing. DESC offers training in using the VAT, including a detailed manual and interview script, to other public and private homeless service agencies.

For more information about DESC’s Vulnerability Assessment Tool, please contact info@desc.org.