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What is HMIS and how can it help us end homelessness?

The first step to solving any problem is sizing it up. Doctors have medical records, police departments have COMPSTAT, and homeless providers have a system called HMIS. 

The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is an electronic database used to hold information on the characteristics and service needs of homeless people in the U.S. The program was developed in the 1990s in response to a mandate by Congress requiring states to collect data in order to receive funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address homelessness.

While Homeless Counts are essential for gathering counts of homeless people, they do not give us all the data we need to assess the breadth and scope of homelessness and plan for solutions. Broad utilization of HMIS can help provide a consistent and accurate snapshot of a region’s homeless population, including a population count, information on service use, and a measurement of the effectiveness of homeless programs, as HMIS also helps track the number of chronically homeless clients and placements into permanent housing. This information can have important impacts on policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

Even with all of these benefits, HMIS usage has been low amongst homeless providers because its functions have not been the easiest to understand and like any software, it takes time to learn. To help, LAHSA is responding by working with a team from Abt Associates to improve functionality of LA’s HMIS software and provide training sessions on how to make use of those functions. According to LAHSA’s newsletter, as of October 2011 HMIS has reached over 58% bed coverage for Emergency Family and Single Shelters, 62% for Transitional Housing facilities and 35% for Permanent Housing facilities.  Congratulations to LAHSA and to users of HMIS – these figures demonstrate that the region has exceeded the goal for HMIS use in 2011!

One of Home For Good’s goals is to track the progress of individuals accessing housing and services and strategically allocate resources. HMIS will play an important role in reaching this goal and creating a system focused on rapid rehousing, thus Home For Good has set ambitious goals for HMIS ongoing system improvements and implementation (see: Home For Good Action Plan).

For more information on HUD’s Homeless Management Information System Initiative click here.

 

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