HUD to collect homeless data nationwide

The Housing and Urban Development Department is finalizing the data and technical standards for a national Homeless Management Information System, which will collect and store data about homeless individuals and families using residential or other assistance services.

HUD published the notice in today's Federal Register. The department anticipates that local homeless service providers will have made some progress at putting the system in place by October.

HMIS will integrate data from all local homeless service providers and capture descriptive information about each person served, to improve understanding of homelessness as well as coordinate delivery of housing and services to specific groups, such as veterans and the chronically homeless.

There will be 'no federal effort to track homeless people and their identifying information beyond the local level,' HUD said to quell concerns about the national database. Local care providers will report homeless data only in the aggregate. Congress has authorized HUD to provide federal funding so local homeless service providers can use computer technology for their daily operations, the department said.

The national system will collect client information such as date of birth, gender, race, veteran status and any disability in a secure fashion to ensure privacy. Local providers of services may collect other information if needed.

After HUD published the draft notice for comments last year, some critics said it could put vulnerable populations at risk. But others applauded the ability to collect better and consistent data. Local homeless programs increasingly use information systems to improve their services, HUD said.

Before the federal initiative, some homeless information systems were part of large local government programs, such as that of New York. Others linked decentralized service providers around a central bed registry, such as in St. Louis, or around a referral system.

Several software vendors are developing systems capable of documenting client demographics, storing information about client needs, identifying available services, tracking referrals and monitoring outcomes.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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