In 2001, Congress directed HUD to provide more detailed information on the extent and nature of homelessness and on the effectiveness of programs funded by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. As a result of this mandate, HUD is requiring each local CoC to develop its own HMIS, a computerized data collection system on homeless individuals and families. As of 2004, there were 444 CoCs operating across the country, with more being established every year. Of these 444 CoCs, 60 percent were already implementing or expanding their HMIS systems, while only one percent were not yet considering any such data collection effort.
By requiring programs and communities to collect demographic, service, and outcome data using standardized data elements, the HMIS system provides a unique opportunity to examine homeless families across programs, providers, and communities. Analyzing HMIS data, particularly from a national sample of CoCs, can help address a number of gaps in what is known about homeless families.
In particular, by showing what services homeless families use and how these services relate to outcomes (such as the length of time a family is homeless, whether they stay out of the homeless system once they leave, and how many exit to more stable housing arrangements), the HMIS data can help allocate appropriate resources to appropriate services. Knowing which families benefit from the various types of services also can inform the development of better treatment matching efforts (e.g., matching families to the appropriate level and intensity of services required).