Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)
A Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is a locally administered, electronic data collection system that stores person-level information about clients who access the homeless service system. HMIS began as a grassroots effort in the mid to late 90’s to use technology at the community level to improve service delivery, the Continuum of Care (CoC) process, and community homeless planning efforts. As local implementation of HMIS grew and communities were able to generate data about persons relying on homeless services, it caught the attention of Congress. In 2001, Congress issued a directive to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide data and analysis on the extent and nature of homelessness and the effectiveness of the McKinney-Vento Act programs, including:
- Developing unduplicated counts of clients served at the local level;
- Analyzing patterns of service use; and
- Evaluating the effectiveness of these systems.
HUD responded to the directive by convening grassroots communities, technology experts, and service providers in a process to inform the development of the HMIS Data and Technical Standards (HMIS Standards) and standard methods for conducting one night counts (Point in Time). HUD made an early decision to define standards for data collection, privacy, and security and not to develop one software application that all providers would use. Rather, HUD developed the HMIS standards and left the development of HMIS applications to the private sector.
HUD required all McKinney-Vento funded providers to participate in HMIS and made HMIS an eligible use of Support Housing Program (SHP) funds through the CoC Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process. To support this effort, HUD also implemented a National Technical Assistance component to assist communities with the details of implementation.
Congress continued to update the directive stating in 2007 that HUD must ensure full HMIS participation by all CoC and that future CoC funding will be tied to participation in HMIS and the AHAR. HUD announced that eventually CoC participation in the AHAR will become mandatory. In the 2008 CoC NOFA, HUD again increased the scoring component for HMIS implementation, signaling the importance of a fully functional HMIS and the shift towards evidenced-based practices.