HMIS is a buzzword in the realm of homelessness agencies. But what does it exactly mean? And why is it important? In this blog post, we explore the specifics of HMIS and how a powerful case management solution can improve data, analysis, and services provided.
The Jargon of Health and Human Services
Every field of work has its own set of vocabulary and jargon. Social services are no exception—social determinants of health and whole person care are common phrases that people outside of the health and human services may not know. Understanding what this vocabulary means is critical to obtaining successful care.
For social workers in the homelessness management field, one of the most common—and important—phrases to understand is HMIS software. Whether you are new to the field or have years of experience, a better understanding of exactly what HMIS software is can help you excel in serving vulnerable populations.
What is HMIS Software?
HMIS stands for “Homeless Management Information Systems”. If this prompts you to think of tech, you are on the right track. Essentially, HMIS is an information system (or software platform) that is designed to help agencies better manage the services they provide to those experiencing homelessness.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA), HMIS is a “computerized data collection tool specifically designed to capture client-level information over time on the characteristics of, service needs for, and services provided to men, women, and children experiencing homelessness.”
In a nutshell, HMIS software is a form of case management specifically designed for homelessness organizations and agencies. However, there are a few unique pieces to HMIS that make it different from a typical case management system. Essentially, this boils down to HUD requirements.
HMIS and HUD
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, plays an important role in case management for homelessness agencies.
In 2001, Congress directed HUD to require all McKinney-Vento funded homeless grantees to implement HMIS. This was in an effort to more efficiently collect and analyze data regarding total number of people experiencing homelessness in the US. Notwithstanding the 2001 directive, some cities with large homeless populations had already begun pioneering the use of computer-based case management systems as early as the 1980’s.
Today, HUD supplies specific data and technology standards for all HMIS software programs to comply with. Doing so is essential for agencies to receive federal funding. These standards include:
- A list of elements that need to be collected,
- Proper format for valid responses,
- Description of privacy, security, and confidentiality standards.
Some of the data elements that HUD requires HMIS collect include: name, date of birth, social security number, race, ethnicity, gender, housing status, program entry date, program exit date, disabilities, substance abuse, mental health status, HIV/AIDS diagnosis, employment, income, and health care, just to name a few.
A Continuum of Care
Many of these data elements intersect with other social programs, such as mental health services, workforce development, and food security agencies. As such, HUD also encourages implementing a continuum of care (or CoC) into HMIS software.
According to SAMSA, a CoC is “a collaboration among local agencies and service providers to address the problems of housing and homelessness within the community”.
Essentially, a CoC means communicating with other social service organizations to team up and provide services together. Doing so is important because it:
- Reduces double treatments,
- Increases access to resources,
- Helps avoid attrition and,
- Better provides whole person care.
Not all HMIS software platforms offer the same level of CoC integration. ClientTrack™ is an industry-leading HMIS case management provider that offers robust CoC care with other agencies. Choosing an HMIS software like ClientTrack is critical to better serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
Why is HMIS Software Important?
Understanding what HMIS is only fulfills part of the equation. Knowing why it is important makes up the other half.
The most obvious answer to why HMIS software is important; it is compliant with HUD requirements. For a homelessness agency to receive federal aid, they must adhere to these strict (and sometimes complicated) standards. HMIS platforms like ClientTrack can help agencies navigate these complex requirements and ensure that they receive as much funding as possible.
HMIS software also provides critical data for analysis. On a national level, unified collection and reporting help HUD gain a more accurate sense of exactly how many people experience homelessness in the US. If data standards were not set, then organizations would most likely report differently, which could lead to incorrect analysis.
On an individual level, a HMIS software can help homelessness organizations to properly monitor their own services. Managing each case to see who is getting treatment and who is falling through the cracks can help agencies fine-tune their resources. In this way, HMIS becomes an invaluable tool for program evaluation.
Perhaps most importantly, effective HMIS software is important because it is a necessary tool in the fight to end homelessness. A world without homelessness—a world we all want—is not possible without the functionality of HMIS.
If you or your organization is looking to upgrade your HMIS system, feel free to reach out for more information on ClientTrack, our HMIS solution. ClientTrack is proud to be an industry-leading case management system for HMIS and has been serving homelessness organizations for over 40 years.
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