Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Data Collection


Primary Data Collection. Interviews with the heads of household would be conducted within two weeks of the shelter request; at the time of exit or six months into shelter; and at six- or 12-month intervals subsequent to exit for a period of two to five years. Each interview would include questions on family demographics; family background, including credit history; criminal and legal involvement; residential background (residential follow-back calendar); homeless and shelter background; family separations; service need and use information; current and past trauma, conflict, and violence; and supports available. Data collection would be conducted by local interviewers in each selected community.

Administrative Data. In addition to collecting information through interviews, information could be obtained through the use of administrative databases, particularly the Homeless Management Information System.17

Although more in-depth information can be obtained through individual surveys, local HMIS systems can be used to determine the following:

  • Family exits from the homeless system;
  • Family reentry into the homeless system;
  • Possible validation of services received (depending upon the extensiveness of the HMIS system); and
  • Possible linkage to other administrative databases, such as public housing or welfare, to examine whether and how these other resources are used and what impact that has on staying out of homelessness.

A major advantage of using local HMIS systems is that information can be obtained even for families that cannot be located for a given followup, reducing the amount of missing data. This can be particularly useful in tracking families that return to shelters.

Because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires only the submission of aggregate HMIS data, however, and has explicitly stated that there will be no Federal effort to track homeless people and their identifying information beyond the local level, access to the local HMIS data will need to be negotiated with each Continuum of Care (CoC) in the targeted sampling areas.

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