The NHSDC Blog

While You’re in Denver!

The National Human Services Data Consortium Spring Conference is less than a month away!  The theme of this year’s conference is “Supporting Cross Systems Collaboration for Integrated, Person-Centered Care Planning”.   Our agenda reflects a wide array of presenters including HUD technical assistance providers and community representatives covering topics from HMIS Basics to data driven program development and Pay for Success results.

by Hogs555 (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

While you are in Denver you’ll likely be looking for great places to eat.  Consider stopping by Pizza Fusion.  This franchise location is operated by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and provides employment opportunities for clients of the coalition.    Not only will you get a great meal, but you will see firsthand how a local organization is working to change the lives of persons who have experienced homelessness!​


Profile photo of admin

by admin

A Call to Fully Automate Coordinated Assessment

Today’s blog post is from Tony Gardner.  He has worked on issues of homelessness, CoC, and technology since 1993.  The views expressed are the author’s alone.

Coordinated assessment is the greatest systems change to the Continuum of Care (CoC) since the introduction of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).  Unfortunately, the current planning direction sidelines the greatest driver of all modern systems changes – automated computer technology.  Until there is an “automation shift” – a move to make coordinated assessment fully electronic and on-line – the full benefits of this systems change will never be realized.

In this regard, coordinated assessment is way behind many other fields.  Online hotel reservations, retail sales, Housing Authority waitlists, and airline reservations all come to mind.  Airline reservations are not that different from CoC housing placements.  In both cases, you have consumers who are trying to find the best way to get from point A to point B – from here to a travel destination for airline reservations, or from the streets to housing for a CoC.  And in both cases, you might have multiple stops along the way – Memphis, Chicago to Fargo for airlines, or emergency shelter, transitional housing, to permanent housing for a CoC.

Yet coordinated assessment is so far behind airline reservations, and the main difference is computer technology.  Nowadays, you can go online to an airline reservation system, put in your requirements, find all the flights and connections that meet your needs, pick your seats, and close the deal.  But not with the current CoC.  What if like most CoCs, you had to go to every airline and ask them about tickets.  Or even go to a travel agency, which is like the current CoC idea of “central intake.”  Would anyone really want to go back to the old way?

No.  It is time to fully realize the benefits of coordinated assessment by going the fully digital route.  The basic technology already exists as shown by many other fields; it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together in a way that makes sense in the CoC world.  What’s fundamentally needed is for the technologists out there to invent the system and make models.  CoCs can then decide which model they prefer.

One way to get this process started is to hold some kind of a public design charette (results available to all technologists), in which CoC representatives come together to design the ideal electronic online system from the front end (client access and assessment) to the back end (client placement and enrollment).  I’ll bet the resulting vision would have a lot easier access, a lot more consumer choice, and be much more efficient than any current systems.

Imagine being able to apply and be assessed for housing with few a clicks on your phone or computer, being automatically matched to the range of housing that best meets your needs, being able to actually see the beds and units you prefer, and being able to apply for the bed or unit with a mere click.  When this happens – and it will – it will be truly revolutionary. And like online airline reservations does for travelers, it will dramatically transform and improve the way homeless people move from the streets to housing.

I’ll conclude with a few questions.

  1. What are your thoughts on whether coordinated assessment should become more electronic?
  2. What specific intake and assessment functionalities could benefit from more online automation?
  3. What barriers to progress are there, and how do we begin to overcome them?

I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts, and will answer any and all comments!


Tony Gardner
Tony Gardner Consulting

Profile photo of admin

by admin

Encoding Our Future: HMIS as the Infrastructure for Social Change

Today’s blog post is from Eric Grumdahl, Policy Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and was originally posted on  These remarks were delivered at the National Human Services Data Consortium conference, Minneapolis, MN, on May 2, 2014 during a plenary session.

Thank you all for the opportunity to be with you today. I feel like I’m in a room of kindred spirits: people eager to solve complex technical problems in the service of complex social problems. Although I now work in DC, I cut my teeth on HMIS and other data systems right here in Minnesota. I’m probably the geekiest USICH director to address this conference. Thanks for having me.

As many of you probably know, USICH is a small, independent Federal agency responsible for coordinating the Federal response to homelessness across the big 19 agencies on the Council. The Council itself is composed of the heads of those agencies, with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan serving as our Chair for 2014.

For all of you gathered together today for this conference to help us use data to solve tough social problems, I’m personally grateful for the work you are doing on homelessness and bring the greetings and appreciation of the Obama Administration with me. I know your loved ones, school buddies, and distant relatives may not really understand what you do. “Something to do with data and IT.” I want you to know that this Administration does understand what you do. Thank you, for helping to build the infrastructure for social change.

Social change is never easy, is it? Only 10 years ago, the first HMIS data standards were published, and it is easy to forget that before then, most places struggled to have meaningful data to guide homelessness policy, especially locally. Only a decade ago, the data we had was often drawn from studies and research that pointed the way forward but most likely came from somewhere else and so were always prone to the objection that “yeah, but it’s not like that here.”

Today, thanks to the infrastructure you build and maintain and enhance and use, most places in our nation have access to readily available, regularly refreshed local data on the magnitude and nature of the problem and the impact of our various interventions and responses. That is critical progress, but as many of you know, that is just the beginning.

Today, I want to reflect on our data about homelessness: how we’ve used it and how it has shaped our response to the problem; how we need to push ourselves to use it better today; and how are data and practice might evolve together.

First, how we’ve used data.

Since the launch of Opening Doors in 2010, we have measured national progress on the goals of the Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness using the annual Point-in-Time count and Annual Homeless Assessment Report data. The story the data tell is compelling, showing unprecedented decreases in homelessness throughout a challenging recession, with progress led by decreases in Veteran and chronic homelessness.

I’m sure most here know the statistics, but they bear repeating: since 2010, Veteran homelessness has decreased by 24 percent. That’s one in four. Chronic homelessness has dropped by 16 percent. Unsheltered homelessness across all populations has decreased by 13 percent, with a 30 percent decrease among unsheltered Veterans. How this has happened is a story of courage and dedication and hard work among thousands of people who experienced homelessness and thousands more who supported them.
It is also a story about our data.

Let’s talk about the linkages between data and investments and impact. The Federal budget is the most powerful vehicle for establishing the Administration’s priorities. It is not a wish list: investments proposed in the budget telegraph both what the Administration values but also the confidence that an investment made will have commensurate impact.

As you can probably imagine, when the Administration develops its budget, there are many, many important and worthy efforts that vie for attention and funding. Every proposal, every detail has to withstand the scrutiny not only of the Administration’s best and brightest trying to eke every ounce of impact out of every dollar, it also must be ready for the scrutiny of the taxpayers, the media, advocacy groups, and the Congress itself. To do all of this, it is not enough to be good and important; big investments require strong evidence of impact.

You know that this Administration has committed to ending homelessness. Ending it, not managing it. We know that ending homelessness requires big investments.

I say all of this because I want to convey the full meaning and weight of this fact: The President’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposes the investments needed to end Veteran homelessness in 2015 and to end chronic homelessness in 2016. To end it.

A decade ago, imagining this level of investment may have strained belief. Homelessness is no more worthy or important today than it was then. One of the most important things that has changed is our data. Today, we have a track record to show of investments that have yielded impact. We have a better understanding of the problem than we have ever had. We have an ability to forecast — that is, to quantify — the impact of the strategies that will help us reach this bold and ambitious goal. And we have developed new, more effective and cost-efficient approaches to ending homelessness. All of that owes a debt of thanks to the data that we’ve assembled and that the systems you build collect, manage, and analyze that data.

These benefits of data in the context of the Federal budget also apply locally — perhaps even more so. Data help elected officials and Continuum of Care leaders who want to propose changes or investments in at least two important ways: first, data on impact and effectiveness will help us make sure that these changes are for the better. Using data to guide changes means we are following the evidence, not ideology and not inertia. Second, having strong data provides cover — political or otherwise — to help us be bold in those decisions. We have 20 months until we have committed to end Veteran homelessness. Now is a time for courageous action, not half-measures.

All of this progress and the role that data have played in it are exciting. Let me pause now and recognize that we have not arrived. We still have a lot of work to do.

My portfolio at USICH includes our work on Veteran homelessness, youth homelessness, and homelessness among Native Americans. Across those overlapping populations, we see huge differences in terms of access to data. VA has some of the best data available on homelessness, and a national center led by Vince Kane with Dr. Dennis Culhane as the head of research to understand what VA’s data say about how to end Veteran homelessness, and how to apply it to practice.

In contrast, our work on youth homelessness and homelessness among Native Americans routinely confronts the limits of our data, and what we know that we don’t know often stymies our most earnest efforts to advance solutions. Again, remember that advocacy for new funding must be grounded in evidence of impact. That’s why the Federal framework to end youth homelessness sets out two equally urgent strategies: to improve our data on youth homelessness while at the same time building our capacity to respond. There are many parallels with our work on Native homelessness, but we have much further to go. Wilder Research’s partnership with tribal governments to conduct a survey on homelessness on reservations is one of a few bright spots we can point to nationally.

Apart from filling in our knowledge gaps, how else does our data on homelessness need to evolve?

The investments proposed in the budget will only get us to the goal if communities and providers make the hard, ethical decisions needed to use those resources to their greatest effect — to target resources wisely based on people’s needs, not just filling vacancies or service slots. To make sure that we are investing in the programs that yield housing outcomes as cost-effectively as possible, not just supporting all the programs we’ve supported because that is the easy, default thing to do.

We know that ending homelessness, like all social change, is hard. But, for the first time ever, the Federal government has proposed investments that can take us to the goal, with your help.

We need your help.

Our data are powerful, but too often, in far too many communities, we’re not really using that power fully. Helping communities use resources wisely is neither easy nor always popular work. I am here to tell you that it is critical to our success.

How many folks here either offer or use an HMIS system with built-in ways to help communities understand the relative impact of various programs in achieving housing outcomes, in a way that illuminates differences between the people engaged? Labor Secretary Perez recently compared this kind of analysis to competitive diving, where divers’ scores are based on both the execution of the dive and the degree of difficulty. To understand the impact of programs, we need to understand both who they engage as well as their effectiveness. HMIS has a critical role to play illuminating both sides of that question. Are we using that capability well?

How many of your systems help service providers identify and engage Veterans and people experiencing chronic homelessness in real time? If you are working in communities that are still taking a first-come, first-serve approach to outreach efforts and in access to critical resources, are they aware of the alternatives? Do they know how other communities are doing it differently, and the impact that targeted engagement and access to resources has on moving the needle? This is happening in places like Salt Lake City and should be happening more broadly. Targeting resources is obviously linked to your work on coordinated assessment, but you do not need to wait for your coordinated assessment system to be fully developed to improve targeting.

How many systems have links to mainstream data systems, so that data that originated in a school or public assistance department or a hospital or a jail can help you focus on who is being engaged through those systems but doesn’t have their housing needs met? The data on who is homeless exist in HMIS, and the data on who uses emergency room frequent exist — why wouldn’t we have those two systems talking to each other? Yes, there are legal hurdles and technical challenges. But it is possible, and we should be doing it.

How many support outreach and engagement in the field? I don’t mean “yes, I guess you could load the webpage on a smartphone,” I mean really useful mobile features and functionality? There are communities like Houston that are making data available in a street outreach context that not only facilitate connections to housing, but also to other resources like health care coverage.

Without minimizing the challenges — technical, financial, legal, and otherwise — if we are not doing these things now, what are we waiting for? These are the kind of things data systems are good at and the kinds of problems that people in this room can solve.

By now, I suspect everyone in this room will have read and absorbed the new HUD data standards released yesterday afternoon. Actually, in this room, I think that’s possible.

Here’s what I hope you see in the evolution of these standards. First, a bold — truly courageous — decision to make the HMIS data standards a tool that serves purposes broader than reporting to HUD. At USICH, we live in this interagency space all the time, and it is wonderful and inspiring to see an agency take something good, something that has had a transformative impact like the HMIS data standards have within HUD’s programs and across our efforts to end homelessness, and make them as useful to other agencies as they have been to HUD. Thank you, HUD, especially to the SNAPS team led by Ann Oliva and a special shout out to Karen DeBlasio, who’s work on the new data standards makes them what they are. As you probably know, for the past several years, HUD has been working with its partners at HHS and the VA to shape the data standards in a way that reflects the values that their grantees bring to your community. The data standards are better because of their involvement in the process.

This cross-jurisdictional application of HMIS means work in the field can be organized better around people instead of disconnected reporting requirements, to simplify some of the administrative complexity that exists right now and to align our semantic understanding of homelessness across programs. Using HMIS across programs also means that a single data standard can span the expertise of multiple agencies: we are making HMIS smarter on youth homelessness by bringing in the wisdom of HHS’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Act grantees; HMIS is better on Veteran homelessness because VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grantees use the system. And I don’t mean “smarter” just in terms of the data standards — I also mean that we’ll actually have better data about individuals and families experiencing homelessness in the system as well.

For some of you, the data standards will support work your communities are already doing to address homelessness across populations and funding sources. For others of you, the new standards may lead to growing pains in your community, as additional stakeholders are being brought to the table and being held to the high standards you are setting for your data. I know these transformations can be painful, and I know that your systems don’t reprogram themselves overnight. Thank you for the work to create this kind of alignment and to use HMIS as a platform for this kind of evolution. This is tremendously important work.

The structural changes to the data standards also mean that the data can be more and more useful to practice. They are evolving in a way that support the work that case managers and outreach workers and supportive housing programs do every day. Some of you have heard me talk about the need to shift from a compliance orientation in our use of HMIS to a focus on supporting practice — the actual eligibility determinations and resource allocation decisions that should be informed by all of this data. Again, coordinated assessment already pushes us in this direction. The new data standards take some important steps in this direction structurally in clarifying the stages and frequency of data entry and in helping communities think about HMIS as a community-wide system instead of a siloed reporting database for each specific program. The changes help us understand homelessness locally, by making destination-at-exit a universal data element collected for all programs and tracking homelessness chronicity.

I think these new data standards are important and exciting, and I hope you agree.

Now I want to turn to the last part of my talk: how do we think about the future? If what we can dream to be today is based on what we know today, what might we dream?
I suspect most of us agree that how we frame homelessness matters. In his dissertation on the importance of framing in the context of social movements, David Wesley said it well:

Frames have several purposes. They align participants with certain ideologies and beliefs, they challenge existing beliefs, and they create new perceptions of reality. As such, frames are important in the development of social movements that, by definition, seek to challenge the status quo.  –David Wesley, “Social movement heterogeneity in public policy framing: a multi-stakeholder analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline” (2014). Law and Public Policy Dissertations. Paper 16.

Data standards are, themselves, a form of framing. They articulate a paradigm — a frame of reference in which we elevate some things as important over others, where we define a scope of options that are anticipated to be possible or at least most probable. We can derive and refine these standards or this paradigm from experience, but experience itself is also mediated. There is no fixed Archimedean point from which to evaluate the merits of each paradigm. Our view is partial, and so is every other view.

So what do we want our view to convey?

As part of the Homelessness to Housing Stability Strategy for the Region of Waterloo in southern Ontario, Canada, the Region of Waterloo Social Service has a language guide that suggests reframing our discussion from focusing on homelessness to focusing on housing stability. Yesterday, you heard Cathy ten Broeke, Minnesota’s Director to Prevent and End Homelessness, talk about how in Minnesota, focusing on housing stability has engaged stakeholders in finding options to end homelessness that a focus on homelessness alone may not. In addition to the practical and strategic considerations about this reframing, let’s recognize that this also focuses us on the solution, it defines the response in terms of the future we seek.

One of the things I have really appreciated about working for USICH is that my documents are  never edited for brevity when I use person-first language. Person-first language is not about political correctness. It is about conceptual clarity. It is about choosing not to perpetuate the mistaken notion that homelessness is a characteristic of a person, rather than an experience that people survive and that remains fundamentally a social artifact, not a quality of someone’s character. It is also about respect. I guess I would rather be known as a person within a bureaucracy than as a bureaucratic person. So, let’s challenge ourselves to keep people first in how we frame the problem in our thoughts, in our concepts, and in the words we use.

symbol for disabilityproposed new symbol for disability

Slate’s The Eye design blog recently ran a piece asking the question whether the international symbol of accessibility needed to be redesigned.

These icons provide a powerful example of how the framing of our concepts embeds all kinds of beliefs, assumptions, and ideologies. Comparing these two symbols, ask yourself which wheelchair you would you prefer to use. We cannot avoid our frames being laced with assumptions and beliefs. But we can try to bring those assumptions into view, and my challenge to us all today is that we think hard about the beliefs that we want to hold.

If an end to homelessness is increasingly in sight, how do we envision the end in the way that we frame the problem today? If we are going to end homelessness, what do our data systems and what does our homelessness response system — or our housing stability system — need to look like as we do?

Thankfully, our work together on homelessness is not the first time a social problem has been solved. Our colleagues in the

public health world have been here before. The health impact pyramid developed by Dr. Thomas R. Frieden in theAmerican Journal of Public Health suggests the answer, in calling for increasingly population-based responses, to change the context and socioeconomic conditions so that people at risk of homelessness are predisposed to housing outcomes, not bouts of homelessness.

Interestingly, this shift mirrors the same semantic and conceptual shifts we just talked about — moving from focusing on one person’s homelessness as the problem, to focusing on the environmental and contextual factors that determine whether risks of homelessness lead to exposure to homelessness.

This table suggests how these concepts from the public health world might apply in the context of housing stability.

But what does this mean for our data systems? A lot, I suspect. Let me call out three key points.

First, if we recognize that context shapes homelessness, how is context part of the story of homelessness that we tell? Do we describe that homelessness exists in a context of unprecedented worst-case housing needs? At a local level, do we quantify the availability of affordable housing alongside our population measures of homelessness? Do we frame homelessness in the context of parallel efforts to improve access to skills and employment? If not, why not? Homelessness Analytics, a collaborative effort of VA and HUD, can help situate data on homelessness in the context of other social indicators.

Second, as population-based responses to homelessness become more and more essential to taking us across the finish line, how are our efforts — and our data systems — linking to the broad population-based services delivered through our health care and economic assistance systems? If we think about effective prevention, we cannot wait until someone shows up at shelter — that is too late. So, how are we engaging these mainstream systems to help identify people in danger of becoming homeless to intervene appropriately early and to make those mainstream systems an essential part of the response? This work must happen locally, and our data systems can support it happening well.

Third, how are we ensuring that those systems are sufficiently sensitive to detect the warning signs of homelessness, to guide those interventions? The know-how for doing so must come from our experience ending homelessness. The best example I’m aware of is the clinical reminder that VA has implemented in every VA medical center in America. Since October 2012, any time a Veteran is engaged for health care services they are asked two questions, the responses to which are strongly correlated with risk of homelessness:

・    In the past two months, have you been living in stable housing that you own, rent, or stay in as part of a household?
・    If not, are you worried or concerned that in the next two months you may not have stable housing that you own, rent, or stay in as part of a household?

More than 4 million Veterans have been screened to date, and Veterans experiencing homelessness or at risk are referred to appropriate services. Can we imagine a world in which we could say the same about every hospital visit? We need your help — and your data systems — to get there.

Big questions, big opportunities. I think it is a measure of our success to date that they are becoming increasingly relevant ones.

So, in closing, let me say again, thank you for the work you do. Thank you for the progress that has been driven by the data you painstakingly collect, analyze, and improve. We are at an exciting and critical time in the history of our nation’s efforts to end homelessness. Thank you for your partnership to make sure that we have the full benefit of the data in your systems and the human stories they tell as we bring about an end to homelessness in this country, and safe and stable housing for all.

Thank you.

Eric Grumdahl, Policy Director, USICH


Find USICH on the web at and on twitter at @USICHgov

Profile photo of admin

by admin

Minnesota welcomes NHSDC Spring conference 2014!

Welcome back, NHSDC! The last time you visited it was 2007, and a lot has changed. For all of us.

Within walking distance of the conference you’ll see the new Twins stadium, Target Field, as well as the remnants of the old Vikings stadium, the Metrodome, which was recently deflated to make way for a new one. Our transit system has expanded beyond the Blue Line (that some of you will ride from the airport), to include a commuter line to the northwest, and a soon-to-open Green Line connecting the Twin Cities’ downtowns. Minnesota also has changed politically, with the Governor’s office switching from Republican Tim Pawlenty, with his working class roots and presidential aspirations, to Democrat Mark Dayton, heir to a large department store chain, which has since become Target.

Other changes? All of us have been through the Great Recession. That global economic crisis, with its accompanying rise in joblessness and poverty rates, threw a definite curve ball to all of our local plans to end homelessness—and Minnesota was not immune. Our best point in time estimates suggest that the number of those experiencing homelessness in Minnesota grew by more than 50 percent from 2006 to 2012.

Source: Wilder Research, Minnesota Statewide Homeless Survey (most recently October 25, 2012). For Notes and additional details, click here)

Still, if any state in the union is positioned to end homelessness, it might be Minnesota. Minnesota has among the nation’s strongest local economies (3rd highest employment level, 9th highest household income), is more educated than most states (10th highest percentage of college graduates), and arguably has higher proportions of people engaged with solving problems than any other state (the highest voting rate and 5th highest rate of volunteerism).

In addition to those more general advantages, Minnesota is home to some distinctive and potentially nation-leading efforts related specifically to homelessness, including (but not limited to):

A new state plan to end homelessness that incorporates 12 major strategies ranging from broad strategies to increase the availability of housing and services, to targeted strategies for veterans, and students. The plan was adopted by the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness, which was recently re-established to include the Governor’s cabinet-level leaders of several state agencies.
Statewide Homeless Survey: My colleagues here at Wilder Research have conducted an in-depth survey of people experiencing homelessness throughout Minnesota every 3 years since 1991. This is a much more comprehensive effort that most point-in-time surveys, both in terms of the level of effort to identify those living in nonshelter locations, and in the range and depth of questions asked. The average interview exceeds 30 minutes in duration, and gets at a wide range of health, income, and disability concerns.
Minnesota’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS): Is a statewide system including all 10 continuum of care regions, over 250 service providers and 650 end-users. To date the system has primarily focused on data collection and reporting for HUD as well as seven distinct state-level funding streams. But we have also found some space for innovations such a supporting on-going XML uploads and developing some useful annual dashboards based on data assembled for the national Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

Further, Minnesota’s HMIS is currently at the center of a broad “transformation” initiative, complete with a HUD-sponsored assessment, visioning sessions, and (currently) multiple working groups. This initiative is aimed at the same set of challenges and opportunities that HMIS administrators across the county are now facing: supporting coordinated assessment, providing more and better reporting, strengthening system governance, and generally becoming even more integral to local plans to end homelessness.

Interested in learning more about all of the efforts? Be sure to catch my colleagues Laura McLain and Michelle Gerrard, as well as Cathy ten Broeke, Minnesota’s Director to Prevent and End Homelessness. at the opening plenary of the NHSDC spring conference. The session begins at 8:30 AM on Thursday, May 1st. Some of us also will be presenting in two of the in-depth sessions that follow. We look forward to showcasing our work. Even more, we look forward to hearing your feedback and learning from your efforts to deal with an ever-changing environment.

Most importantly we look forward working with all of you to address one of the nation’s most complex and stubbornly persistent social problems.
Welcome back!

-Craig Helmstetter, Senior Research Manager at Wilder Research, and project director of Minnesota’s HMIS

Profile photo of admin

by admin

Learn about Minneapolis, Our Host City for the 2014 Spring Conference


The Spring 2014 NHSDC Conference will be held in Minneapolis, the “City by Nature.”

With a park every six blocks, over 100 rivers and lakes, and dozens of farmers’ markets, Minneapolis is a city that is infused with, and surrounded by, nature.

We’ll be in town at the beginning of spring, when Minneapolis feels as though it is being reborn. The white palate of winter becomes a canvas, which nature paints with a vibrant array of colors. The sounds of new, green leaves flow in the cool, 70-degree wind.

Walker Art Center

Minneapolis is also a metropolitan city with world-renowned theaters, top-notch sports venues, critically-acclaimed restaurants and uniquely chic shopping. There are a dozen large art, culture, science, and historical museums alongside smaller galleries and museums. There are also four large ballet , dance, and folk dance companies, as well as filmmakers’ groups and numerous theater companies. To learn more about Minneapolis, visit:

We have great social and networking opportunities planned for you during our cocktail reception on May 1st from 5:30-6:30 PM at the conference hotel.

Oh, and if you’re interested in the conference sessions the preliminary agenda has been released!


We’re excited to see you in Minneapolis!

The Spring 2014 NHSDC Conference Planning Team


Profile photo of admin

by admin

A Peek into HUD/Solution Provider Collaboration

Today’s guest blog post is from Paul Rossi with Foothold Technology and with the NHSDC Blogging Team.

Every day across the country, thousands of workers on the front lines of ending homelessness log into Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) to document their efforts in serving and returning to housing some of their community’s most vulnerable members.  While most users understand why they collect the data they do, it’s likely that only a very small percentage of user know how these systems were developed or how they’re maintained in compliance with the federal HMIS requirements.

Enter the HMIS software solution providers.

A lot of the HMIS software solution providers in the marketplace today have been working with community based agencies to collect data on homelessness in varying ways for many years prior to HMIS.  However, it wasn’t until Congress required the implementation of Homeless Management Information Systems that HUD worked with experts in the field to develop the HMIS Data and Technical Standards that were released in 2004.  At that time, HMIS software solution providers were required to update and standardize their systems in accordance with the standards.  This standardization allows communities to collect the required data in the correct format and generate the required HUD reports.  Data gleaned from reports like the Annual Performance Report, the ESG Caper and the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) inform HUD on a grantee’s programmatic performance, a community’s response to homelessness, and justify ongoing funding from Congress.  For the first time, with HMIS, HUD has a vast and reliable data pool that informs policy and provides feedback on the nation’s overall efforts at addressing homelessness.

As the world of HMIS has evolved over the years, so has the participation of HMIS software solution providers in the discussions with HUD and its technical assistance providers.  These discussions centered around best practices, lessons learned, and community challenges in the implementation of components of the data standards or reporting requirements.  This relationship has led many to view the role of those who have traditionally been thought of simply as “vendors”, to really become viewed as partners in developing “software solutions” in the effort to end homelessness.  To that end, HMIS software solution providers join a conference call each month with HUD staff and the lead HMIS TA providers to review and work through issues related to the ongoing development of the HMIS Data Standards and to discuss opportunities to improve HMIS data collection and reporting.

One of the real tangible benefits of this collaboration is a sharing of insights between HUD, its partners and the solution providers that have to actually implement what’s developed and released.  The solution provider community brings more than a dozen years of HMIS implementation experience to the table and, collectively, has amassed tremendous insight into the direct impact HMIS requirements have on data collection systems and the communities that use them.  This impact can extend to other federal and local partners if the proposed changes are not fully vetted prior to release.  The opportunity to share with HUD and its partners the complexities of implementing changes to data collection on the software side has been particularly beneficial.  While no two systems are truly identical, basic code design, development, testing and deployment routines are common enough across systems as to allow HUD and its partners to gain insight into problems in logic, timeline or product that some proposed changes will have.  While there are some complications that are difficult to avoid, there has been quite a bit of progress of late removing some of these anticipated challenges from the equation as a result of the dialogue with the solution providers.

In addition to the monthly conference call, HUD typically convenes, through collaboration with the National Human Services Data Consortium, an in person half-day meeting for HMIS software solution providers with HUD and the TA team at the Fall Conference held in the DC area each year.  It is through these meetings that the TA team has worked with expert volunteers from many of the HMIS software solution providers to develop tools like the HMIS Reporting glossary, a reference guide for methods of selecting clients and data used commonly in HMIS-generated reports.  Additionally there is an XML/CSV Workgroup that meets regularly to develop tools to support interoperability between HMIS and other data systems.  To further the work that’s already being done, HUD convened a two day meeting for HMIS software solution providers at HUD Headquarters in early January to review and seek feedback on the new HMIS Data Standards expected for release in early 2014.  Elements of the upcoming Privacy and Security Notice were also reviewed in an early draft form with the solution providers for some initial feedback.

It’s this framework of inclusion, collaboration and sharing that is helping to develop a tighter feedback loop between HUD and the software solution providers that ultimately allows implementing communities to realize greater success within their HMIS implementations.

Paul Rossi
Foothold Technology


Profile photo of admin

by admin

Improving Data Collection and Data Quality on Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness

Today’s guest blog post is from Adrienne Breidenstine with U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

Unaccompanied youth[1] are an important, and sometimes, overlooked segment of the people who experience homelessness in our country. At the national level there is neither a current nor a reliable estimate of the number of youth experiencing homelessness in America. Many if not most youth experiencing homelessness go uncounted due to barriers for young people accessing adult-targeted shelters, their lack of connection to most social services, and many youth do not want to be counted.  We have some information about youth homelessness through dated national surveys, federal data systems, anecdotal evidence, and a handful of studies in specific places. The information has been used to inform preliminary planning for how to address youth homelessness, but with limited results.   We realize an intentional and coordinated strategy for getting to better data is essential to advance our understanding of the magnitude and reasons for youth homelessness and to refine our plan to end it.

In June 2010, the Administration launched Opening Doors, the first ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. This plan set the ambitious goal to end youth homelessness by 2020. The goal to end youth homelessness by 2020 is critical because it prompts us to address this problem in new ways by being timely, more creative, resourceful, and by coordinating an approach across agencies that takes into account the developmental challenges for youth transitioning to adulthood.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), including key staff from the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Education (ED) collaborated to develop a framework for how we will move forward to end youth homelessness in America. In February, USICH released the Framework to End Youth Homelessness. The framework calls on agencies and systems at all levels to work together to improve youth outcomes to simultaneously achieve stable housing, permanent connections, education and employment, and well-being. To reach these outcomes, the framework includes two complementary strategies: 1) improve data quality and collection on youth experiencing homelessness, and 2) build capacity for service delivery.

Improving data quality and collection will provider a clearer understanding of the prevalence, characteristics, and needs of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. In order to improve data quality and collection the framework proposes three complementary strategies:

  • Leverage HUD’s Point-in-Time count to improve strategies for counting youth by enhancing collaborations between Continuums of Care (CoCs), Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) providers, and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and developing youth-specific methods for counting unaccompanied homeless youth.
  • Integrate the data system for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act grantees – the Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System (RHYMIS) — with the Continuum of Care data system – the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).
  • Develop a national study that builds on program data and the HUD count that includes household surveys to get to a confident national estimate of youth homelessness.

Taken together, these three things will lead to an ongoing estimate of and better data about youth experiencing homelessness, which in turn will provide a mechanism for monitoring our progress in meeting the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020.

Efforts to improve data on youth homelessness began with HUD’s 2013 Point-in-Time (PIT) count. HUD’s PIT Count is the main source of data used to track progress against the goals in Opening Doors. HUD issued PIT count guidance that required all CoCs to report on the number of persons in each household type by age category (under age 18, 18 to 24, and over age 24) for the 2013 PIT count. This new data reporting requirement allows HUD to capture more discrete data on unaccompanied homeless youth. In addition, USICH and its federal partners provided key technical assistance to Youth Count!, a community-driven initiative to develop effective strategies for counting unaccompanied homeless youth. The goal of this initiative is to identify promising strategies for conducting: 1) collaborative PIT counts of unaccompanied homeless youth that engage Continuums of Care (CoC), Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) providers, local education agencies (LEAs) homeless, and other local stakeholders; and 2) credible PIT counts that gather reliable data on unaccompanied homeless youth. This initiative will help to inform future national guidance on youth strategies for PIT counts and to foster meaningful partnerships between homeless service providers, school districts, and other mainstream service providers. Results of a cross-site evaluation of Youth Count! will be available in spring 2013.

While improvement of data on youth through the PIT count is critical, we recognize that the PIT has limitations and is not the only source of data on youth homelessness. Complementary methods, such as the integration of data systems and a national study, are also needed and are being pursued to get to a confident estimate of the number of youth experiencing homelessness. USICH, HUD, and HHS are exploring how to integrate HUD’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) and HHS’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information Systems (RHYMIS). Integrating HMIS and RHYMIS will improve our ability to capture more consistent information across federally funded housing and services programs to allow for a better understanding of the continuum of needs, services, and outcomes for homeless youth, families and single adults.

As data professionals we know that the potential impact of improving data quality is abstract to many people and that getting excited about better data can seem wonky, but it is a critical step that will move us closer to ending youth homelessness. Better data will inform the scope and scale of youth homelessness, inform future research, identify best practices and effective models of intervention, and highlight where there are gaps in the service delivery system. Ultimately, it is through the data that we will know when we have turned the corner and are firmly on the road to ending youth homelessness.

Adrienne Breidenstine,
Management and Program Analyst,
U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness


[1] For remainder of this blog post, the terms “homeless youth” or “youth homelessness” specifically refer to unaccompanied youth who are at-risk of or have experienced homelessness.


Profile photo of admin

by admin

Maintaining Agency Resource Information

Today’s guest blog post is from Leslie Grevoy with DuPage County Community Services.

How many of us can count on more than one hand the number of times we have given a client a referral for the assistance they need only to find out that the information we have given out is incorrect?

It is our opinion that maintaining your agencies resource record is one of the most important tasks you can perform. This information should be reviewed at a minimum of once a year, and possibly more than that if you participate in a 211 system. If you are not sure of what is required in order to be “compliant,” you can review the information in the AIRS Standards which can be accessed by going to You can also obtain additional information on the 211 initiative being implemented across the country on the AIRS website.

Basically, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want our clients to be given the most current and up to date information possible. It can only add to their and our frustration if they need to make a secondary contact in order to obtain the services they require. All across the country, there are people dedicated solely to the task of maintaining databases and by keeping your information as current as possible, it makes the task must easier for them. Currently, I am in the middle of such a project and would like to personally thank everyone who is doing their part to make the process go so smoothly. Please feel free to contact me by commenting on this post or by email at Thanks and I look forward to all of your feedback.

Leslie Grevoy
DuPage County Community Services

-Leave a Comment-

Profile photo of admin

by admin

Welcome to the NHSDC Blog!

Welcome to the launch of our NHSDC blog.  We are excited to bring you information about what is going on in the world of human service data.  If you have an interesting idea or want to be a guest blogger, please contact us at The following Blog Post Guidelines provides instructions on the posting process and helpful dos and don’ts.  Also, please note that the views expressed in NHSDC blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the NHSDC.

– comments –

Introduction and Blog Post Guidelines

Welcome to the NHSDC blog!  We are excited to create a space for sharing ideas and providing information about the world of human service data.

Share your ideas: 

Do you feel passionate about data and how it can improve lives? If you have an interesting idea; a position on certain industry standards or practices; or something unique you’ve been working on, consider being a guest blogger and sharing it with others.  Write a guest article!

What are you thinking about?

Comment on what you’ve read, share your thoughts and provide alternative viewpoints.  We welcome healthy dialogue and debate.

Spread the word:

If you see something you like, spread the word… Share it on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Where to get started?

Please start by reading the Blog Post Guidelines (see below) that give some helpful dos and don’ts.  Write a short proposal for your blog entry, a paragraph is fine, and send it to We will read your proposal and send you a response to let you know if it’s approved.  Once you have our approval, write the full blog article and submit it back to us for posting.


Blog Post Guidelines:

• Blog article topic with abstract must be submitted to and approved by NHSDC. Please submit proposed articles to
• Authors are expected to monitor and respond to content for at least 3 months following the original post.
• NHSDC owns all content on the blog and may decide to edit or remove posts at any time.
• Authors will be contacted within two working days if blog content is removed or edited.
• Authors found to be willfully disregarding the blog guidelines will be barred from future posting opportunities.

• Educate readers about ideas, innovations and best practices in the human service data field.
• Write original content. When quoting any other blog or publication, provide a web link to the original, if possible, and use quotation marks or block quotes. If you can’t link to a publication, please cite the title, author, publisher and year of publication.
• Writing should be clear and concise. The longer your post, the less likely people will read all the way through.
• Link to resources related to your topic.
• Promote posts via twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
• Encourage dialogue through comments.
• When using a photograph that is not your own, be sure to obtain permission and cite the photographer.
• Include one sentence about your relevant history and current affiliation.

• Post material that is unlawful, abusive, defamatory, invasive of another’s privacy, or obscene to a reasonable person.
• Promote personal projects, regardless of whether they are fee-based on not.
• Include the name of products or services.

The views expressed in NHSDC blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the NHSDC.