What an HMIS is:

A Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is a software application designed to record and store client-level information on the characteristics and service needs of homeless persons. An HMIS is typically a web-based application that homeless assistance providers use to coordinate care, manage operations, and better serve their clients.

HMIS implementations can encompass geographic areas ranging from a single county to an entire state. An HMIS knits together homeless assistance providers within a community and creates a more coordinated and effective housing and service delivery system.

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 produce an unduplicated count of homeless persons, understand service use patterns, and measure the effectiveness of homeless programs.
(source: www.HUDExchange.info)

An HMIS is a data system designed to help:

According to the 2/15/2023 HUD HMIS Lead and System Administrator Webinar (slide 8), HMIS is designed for the following:

  • Inform CoCs to understand the nature and extent of homelessness in their communities so they can make sound policy and resource decisions;
  • Help homeless service providers move people from homelessness to housing stability;
  • Provide HUD information on the nature and extent of homelessness in this country;
  • Protect the use and disclosure of people’s information to support their safety and choice; and
  • Meet the use and reporting requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act for each CoC.

What an HMIS is not:

According to the 2/15/2023 HUD HMIS Lead and System Administrator Webinar (slide 9), HMIS is not designed for the following:

  • “If a software vendor indicates that they sell an “HMIS” for the purpose of tracking individuals experiencing homelessness for law enforcement, it is not an HMIS.
  • “Furthermore, HMIS data should not be used to adjudicate services or benefits unless federally required. Staff should not use or disclose HMIS data in a way that will violate the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Access Rule, or break state, local, sovereign nation, and other federal privacy laws.”

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.

HUD required federally funded public and nonprofit organizations to implement a homeless tracking system to meet this goal. Out of this directive came the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a database that collects information on individuals and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The database is accessible by organizations providing related services. The database stores that data in a secure, centralized server. 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.

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