Oakland, California, doesn’t have the data to tell if it’s making any progress on reducing homelessness, a new audit shows.
The city of Oakland, California, is unable to adequately evaluate city services and programs meant to address its homelessness problems, City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said in a statement on a recently released audit of the city’s homelessness services.
Since 2015, homelessness grew by 131% in Oakland and 141% in Alameda County, according to the Sept. 19 audit. Despite the increasing strain on city services, Oakland did not have access to the data it needed to fully understand service provider performance, bed utilization and program participants’ returns to homelessness, the report revealed.
Both the county and the Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda continuum of care, a group of organizations and individuals that coordinate funding for services and housing, failed to submit timely and accurate data to the federal Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a database for client-level and service delivery data on homelessness prevention efforts. Data was also unavailable to the city’s coordinated entry system, a service through which homeless individuals can be matched with housing and other resources through Alameda County’s Health Care Services Agency.
As a result, the city’s crisis response had mixed results in placing homeless individuals in permanent housing and enrolling them in health and income benefit programs. Poor data management, lack of coordination among service providers and the city as well as an absence of metrics to measure progress with available data contributed to Oakland’s shortcomings, the audit said.
“Underlying these mixed results is the City’s access to timely, accurate, and complete data and its ability to use this data to adequately evaluate its own performance and the performance of the service providers contracted to provide direct homelessness services,” City Auditor Courtney Ruby said in the report. “This was compounded by the fact that the City’s contract monitoring activities were incomplete, inadequately documented, and did not sufficiently address service delivery concerns.”
For example, in FY 2018 one shelter provider’s data suggested only 10 participants exited the program, but in reality the count was much more, the audit said.
In 2019, a review of the continuum of care revealed that the organization had no monitoring process or a data quality plan, meaning there was a risk of bad data.
In FY 2020, no COVID response programs entered health benefits-related data into the HMIS, which made it appear as if homelessness program participants were not enrolled in mainstream or health insurance benefits, the report revealed.
“The City should … analyze data quality and assist service providers in remediating any data concerns if needed,” Ruby said. “The City should also develop procedures to regularly monitor data quality and work with the County to ensure that service providers are adequately trained on how to use HMIS.”
The audit recommends city staff and service providers take appropriate steps to ensure that HMIS data is timely, accurate and complete. The city should also ensure it has staff with the technical skills to standardize valuable reports, analyze them and HMIS data as a whole and provide accessible dashboards for reference by employees, policymakers and the general public.
Fortunato Bas, who took office in 2019 and focused her efforts on providing housing, shaping the city budget to its residents’ needs and offering equitable services to individuals, originally called for the audit in 2019 in response to Oakland’s homelessness crisis, which has grown nearly 25% since then, the statement said.
“With this baseline information, Oakland must create stronger programs and services with management systems for accountability and results so that we can develop an impactful strategic plan to address the homelessness crisis,” Fortunato Bas said. “Our unsheltered neighbors deserve services that lead to dignity and permanent housing, and our taxpayers deserve accountability and results from our investments.”