This analogy continues my series describing HUD’s definitions of homelessness. You may need to use these definitions for state affordable housing programs as well, making this even more crucial for your clients. You will match your client’s circumstances to the right housing programs. The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is your single best tool for achieving this goal. So let’s talk about how it works.
HMIS is like HUD’s family tree for tracking a person’s homelessness incidents. Names and dates of marriages, births and deaths are critical genealogy entries to the family tree. Similarly, it is critical for your client to contact HMIS each time he or she experiences homelessness. This report opens a “case” for that person or family in the HMIS database.
Homelessness is not limited to sleeping on the street or in a car. It can be:
- Nights in a shelter, or
- Nights in a motel paid for by a social service agency, or
- Eviction with a set out within seven days, or
- Release from a hospital or jail of less than 90 days, or
- exiting transitional housing also counts, if you can show he or she was homeless when she went in to any of these situations.
You want a record of each time this has happened to her.
The HMIS intake workers interview clients in person or by phone to gather information. Good HMIS data reveals relationships within the “family tree.” When people share their stories the data shows the cause and effect of trauma, be it physical, mental or economic trauma and how they led to homelessness. It reveals the correlations between Intimate Partner Violence and other hardships. Policy makers and advocates can see how often it leads to homelessness, poverty, poor school performance, substance abuse and so on.
Beyond basic demographic information the HMIS intake questionnaire asks a series of questions that start to create your client’s housing needs profile. Your client’s responses serve at least two purposes: it generates an Official Homeless Certificate and adds a homeless incident to your client’s housing history.
HUD’s HMIS regulations identify the universal and program elements the system must collect.*
When your client reports her housing situation to HMIS it generates an HMIS number. This number satisfies the rule to verify each homeless episode.
You may have noticed these blog posts build on each other to arm you for using the housing system as well as possible. If you complete the steps with accuracy and timeliness you will gain an edge over other applicants who aren’t thorough. Once again you and your client will move forward toward obtaining affordable housing ASAP.
*Thank you to the Missouri Association for Social Welfare for its data element overview. (It contains some technical directions for HMIS managers but they don’t detract from the nice overview MASW put together.)