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 software application that homeless assistance providers use to coordinate care, manage their 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 be used to produce an unduplicated count of homeless persons, understand patterns of service use, and measure the effectiveness of homeless programs.
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), a computerized data collection application that facilitates the collection of information on homeless individuals and families using residential or other homeless assistance service agencies, and stores that data in a centralized database for analysis. 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.