On any given night, nearly 9,000 Minnesotans are homeless, and almost 11,000 more are “precariously housed" – mostly doubled up with friends or relatives. The problem seems to have steadily increased over the past two decades. According to Wilder Research, the number of homeless families in Minnesota more than tripled between 1991 and 2006.
Homelessness involves many factors, including the high cost of housing, the lack of good jobs, mental illness, chemical dependency, rental history, criminal background, neglect, and domestic violence. Minnesota’s HMIS is one attempt to address the issue by providing a clearer picture of who experiences homelessness, how that population changes over time, and what types of services are needed to help turn these trends around.
The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is a client-level database that uses web-based technology. It is a secure data-management tool that provides client and service tracking, and reporting for several key funders. It can also help with program management.
In Minnesota, the software we are using for HMIS is called ServicePoint. This secure web-based system allows a number of different agencies and users to continuously enter their clients’ data while being assured the information is protected.
HMIS seeks to collect information from all homeless service providers throughout the state. These include emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, permanent supportive housing providers, homeless prevention programs, and other service providers in contact with people experiencing homelessness, such as outreach programs and drop-in centers. Minnesota's HMIS is overseen by a Governing Group
that includes representatives from each of the 13 Continuum of Care regions in the state, as well as persons who were formerly homeless, various advocacy organizations, providers serving specific populations such as youth and veterans, and funders. Wilder Research administers all aspects of the HMIS project.
HMIS meets a federal mandate, thus improving Minnesota’s chances to continue receiving at least its current level of HUD homeless program funding—about $20 million annually. HMIS offers:
- Improved planning to prevent and end homelessness. Minnesota’s HMIS offers the state a chance to answer questions that are important to improving service effectiveness, including: How many people use services over the course of a year? What are the needs of these people? Do new initiatives result in measurable changes?
- Easier data management for agencies. Minnesota’s HMIS provides agencies with a data management tool that meets reporting requirements for several state and federal homelessness-related funding programs. It is also used to produce HUD’s Annual Progress Report.
- Better services to clients. HMIS provides more comprehensive case history information and enhances communication between service providers.
Data privacy has been emphasized at every step in developing and implementing Minnesota’s HMIS. To ensure security, the system allows licensed users to access only the client information that they have permission to see. Additionally, before being able to use the system, agencies and end-users go through training and sign agreements to uphold rigorous data privacy standards. No information that would enable the federal government to identify particular individuals is sent to HUD through Minnesota’s HMIS.
Many agencies are required to participate in order to receive state and federal funds, but to gain as comprehensive a picture of homelessness as possible, other agencies are strongly encouraged to use HMIS as well. These include agencies that provide housing services (transitional housing, supportive housing, emergency shelters, for instance), as well as auxiliary services (such as food shelves and outreach programs). Increased participation in HMIS will increase our understanding of clients’ characteristics and needs, help us to better evaluate programs, and strengthen our efforts to end homelessness. Currently, HMIS data is being used in a variety of reports.