“Good data is essential for communities to plan to end homelessness, to evaluate programs and to allocate resources efficiently. An HMIS is an indispensable tool for communities seeking to end homelessness.”
– National Alliance to End Homelessness
What is HMIS?
HMIS stands for “Homeless Management Information System”. It’s a shared database designed to record and store client-level information on the characteristics and service needs of homeless persons. It’s something that homeless agencies use to coordinate care, manage their operations, and better serve their clients. It’s a great way we are able to use the power of technology to help both those experiencing homelessness, and the agencies trying to help.
Our HMIS encompasses agencies both in Muscogee County GA, and Russell County AL.
While HMIS is a name for the type of system, “ClientTrack” is the specific HMIS our community uses.
The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other planners and policymakers at the federal, state and local levels use aggregate HMIS data to obtain better information about the extent and nature of homelessness over time. Specifically, an HMIS can be used to produce an unduplicated count of homeless persons, understand patterns of service use, and measure the effectiveness of homeless programs. (source: https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/hmis/)
A Brief History of HMIS
In 2001, Congress asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take the lead in requiring communities to develop an unduplicated count of the homeless. To meet this goal, HUD required federally funded public and nonprofit organizations to implement a homeless tracking system. Out of this directive came the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). Because an HMIS has the capacity to integrate data from all homeless service providers in the community and to capture basic descriptive information on every person served, it meets HUD’s objectives and is a valuable resource for communities. At the national level, HMIS data can then be aggregated to provide the information necessary to establish effective national policies to address homelessness. One of the explicit goals of developing an HMIS is to gain a clearer understanding of the prevalence of homelessness and to track client service needs over time. Understanding the complexities of needs that people experiencing homelessness face, can help plan for a more responsive system of homeless service provision.
Participating agencies gather and enter standardized client-level and demographic data into HMIS, such as First Name, Last Name, Date of Birth, Address Data Quality, Disability and Chronically Homeless. Agencies then record program enrollments and services for the client, as well as the option of different goals. Data collected is compiled into reports that permits us to understand the demographic and geographic scope of homelessness and the needs of our area.
How the data is used:
For The Client – Reduced duplication of information; safeguard of client confidentiality.
For The Provider – Better-quality with internal and external data; Improved ability to serve clients; Measure and assess program effectiveness and report to boards and funders.
For The Continuum – To measure the progress towards ending homelessness in our community.
For Funders – Evaluate return on investment.
Our community goal is that 100% of agencies who provide services to the homeless contribute client data to HMIS, regardless of funding source. HMIS is a very valuable tool we have in our community, and that tool is made more valuable as more agencies take advantage of it. If your agency is interested in being a part of our local HMIS implantation, please let us know! Our HMIS offers many advantages and can be used to help understand the characteristics and service needs of those experiencing homelessness, to analyze how your clients use services, and to evaluate your program’s effectiveness and outcomes.
What HMIS does:
- Provides an unduplicated count of clients served
- Tracks services used by homeless persons
- Captures information from multiple agencies
- Tracks service usage over time
- Provides summary information about service usage and clients
- Gauges community progress towards ending homelessness.
Requirements for agencies to participate in HMIS:
- Agency primarily serves homeless individuals or families, such that dedicated beds or services have been set aside for this population. “Homeless” is defined by either of the following two definitions. i Agencies that serve individuals or families at risk or at imminent risk of homelessness through provision of prevention services are also welcome to participate, with “imminent” defined as “Would this individual or family be homeless but for this assistance?”
- Agency agrees to abide by all policies and procedures outlined in the Policies and Procedures Manual.
Benefits of HMIS:
For Homeless Men, Women and Children
- A decrease in duplicated intakes and assessments
- Coordinated case management
- Development and management of client outcomes
- Coordination of services, internally among agency programs, and externally with other providers
- Preparing financial and programmatic reports for investors, boards, and other stakeholders
- Collecting information for program design decisions
For Public Policy Makers and Advocates
- Clarifies understanding of the extent and scope of homelessness
- Identifies gaps in service
- Provides statistics for making informed policy decisions
This is a list of participating agencies in our area:
Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry (including Grace House & Trinity House)
Home for Good
Homeless Resource Network
House of T.I.M.E
Open Door Community House
Stewart Community Home
Valley Interfaith Promise
Columbus Regional Health
1. Who is in charge of the HMIS?
Home for Good, a program of the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley, is responsible for implementing our HMIS, as well as organize training’s, user groups, and provide technical support.
2. Who should use HMIS?
HMIS is targeted towards homeless shelters, transitional housing programs for the homeless, permanent supportive housing programs for formerly homeless persons, and other homeless service programs. HMIS is also used by Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Programs. Some agencies are required to use HMIS if they receive certain types of funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Other homeless programs are encouraged to use HMIS because it helps provide us with a more complete picture of homelessness.
3. What software do you use?
We use ClientTrack, a software solution provider based out of Salt Lake City, UT. You can visit there website to find out more about them: www.clienttrack.com
4. How much does HMIS cost?
HMIS is subsidized by HUD, so there is no cost at all for homeless service providers.
5. How do I sign up and how do I get a user name?
Anyone wanting to use HMIS will need to attend a New User Training Sessions. You can register for the New User Trainings by visiting the “Training” section of our website. Each person will also need to fill out a copy of the “End-User Agreement”. That document can be found on the “Documents” page.
6. How many people at our agency can use HMIS?
The amount of allowed users is based on the volume of clients and services. Each person will need to have their own username and cannot share usernames or passwords.
7. Can Domestic Violence programs user HMIS?
No. Domestic violence programs are prohibited from using HMIS according to the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.
8. What if my agency is a faith-based organization?
Faith-based organizations can have the same benefits of using HMIS as any organization. This includes the same access to training, onsite assistance, and technology funds.
9. What is HMIS training like?
A general HMIS training takes about 2 hours. It covers basic HMIS functions like Client Intake, Services, and Discharge. More advanced training is also available. Training’s are conducted in person, and usually we are available to come to you. For larger groups of people, we usually schedule a meeting room at the library on Macon Rd. We are also able to do refresher courses on a case by case basis through gotomeeting.com. These allow ongoing training’s to take place.
10. Who should attend HMIS training?
Everyone at your agency who will be using the HMIS should attend HMIS training, as well as anyone who will be collecting information about your clients using paper surveys.
11. Do I need to have HMIS installed on my computer?
No. HMIS is entirely web-based. All you need is an Internet connection.
12. What are the benefits of using HMIS?
HMIS has many potential benefits, such as:
- Better coordination of services
- Less duplication of intake and assessment
- Track client outcomes
- Print reports at the touch of a button
- Analyze data by population, subpopulation, gender, age, etc.
- Generate an unduplicated count of persons served
- Educate your community with good, solid, numbers
- Use data to communicate more effectively with funders and donors
13. Can you give me some specific examples of these benefits?
- A supportive housing program analyzed their HMIS data by subpopulation and discovered that clients who were also military veterans had a much shorter length of stay than any other subpopulation. The agency realized there was a need to develop better collaborations with local veteran’s service organizations. This issue would not have been discovered without the ability to analyze data using HMIS.
- A homeless program administrator routinely spent over 40 hours preparing their HUD Annual Progress Report (APR). With HMIS, the administrator simply clicks on a button that says “Print APR.” The entire process takes less than five minutes. By using the HMIS, administrative time is significantly reduced, allowing staff to spend more time working directly with the clients.
- United Way calls and wants to know the average age of a homeless person in your community. They want to use the information as the centerpiece of their annual giving campaign. HMIS can be used to quickly generate information needed by funders.
14. What are the risks of HMIS?
The main risk of HMIS revolves around privacy and confidentiality. To ensure that information in HMIS is kept secure we regularly audit agencies to make sure they are following all security guidelines. Each user will be given their own username and password and we are able to audit a user’s activity should there be a suspected breach of confidentiality.
HMIS is a Client-Choice system, meaning that the clients have the choice of keeping their data confidential or sharing their information with other partner agencies. Client’s must sign a release in order to share their information. The benefit of sharing information is that other agencies will be able to pull up their data and will not need to ask the same questions each time a client presents for services. However, it is important that staff make sure the client’s understand their rights. More often than not, consumers are more concerned with getting food and shelter than with safeguarding their data and may be willing to sign anything put in front of them if it is not explained carefully in language that they will understand.
The HMIS has several built-in security precautions. First, the HMIS software has a multi-level “permission” structure governed by passwords. A password allows the user to see only the data that is relevant to them. The systems also uses 128 bit encryption technology – the same technology used for online banking – to render the database unreadable to anyone who attempts an unauthorized use of the system. In addition, IHCDA has developed client consent forms (to inform clients of their rights) and Agency Partner Agreements, and a user Code of Ethics to ensure the data is used and collected responsibly. Lastly, the government will not see any client level data.
15. What if I don’t have time to learn a new system?
We understands that adopting a new technology can be a daunting task. HMIS staff is committed to helping your agency implement the HMIS in the way that best integrates with your normal workflow. HMIS is expected to reduce the amount of administrative time spent on a program. Imagine the amount of time you spend preparing summary data for your board meeting, combing through sign-in sheets, tallying up demographics. Using the HMIS, that same report could be printed in less than two minutes. Your agency may choose to use HMIS for a single program for a while, until you are comfortable with the technology. We will be with you each step of the way, whether it is on the phone or onsite at your agency.
16. How can I stay up-to-date with what’s going on with HMIS.
Check out our local HMIS data page on our website as it’s updated with the data we’re able to pull from our HMIS.