A conversation on data in homeless services

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By Mark Horvath (TPEPOST Hero) – Courtesy of The Huffington Post

photoI think we all agree that data is important. At this year’s SXSW, I kept hearing the phrase “big data” over and over and over! Homeless services is starting to adapt the use and sharing of data. HUD has now even mandated all service providers use HMIS (Homeless Management Information Systems) as a requirement to funding! That’s all great, but to make data really work we need policy and cultural changes!

For example, Homeless Management Information Systems is mostly based on satisfying funder requirements and is not client focused. Basically, HMIS is built to get money over providing care for our homeless clients. When you go any hospital they collect data to both help a person’s wellness and satisfy insurance billing requirements so it can be done! Another issue I have is the time it takes to do a homeless client’s ‘intake’! Sitting in an office for five-plus hours waiting is the norm not the exception. No one wants to sit for that long in a lobby. Homeless people know an ‘intake’ means they sit there for hours, and if they are lucky, they get placed on a waiting list! The more vulnerable the homeless person is, the more the traditional intake process actually becomes a roadblock to services. HMIS is also far from being user-friendly, which makes it challenging to use and hurts data integrity.

Probably my biggest frustration is we have the technology to show availabilities but don’t. Technology allows me and you to find an available hotel room anywhere in the world from any computer in the world that has Internet access. Yet, at best, what homeless providers give to a homeless family or individuals are ‘referrals.’ Referrals normally are just a list of phone numbers. Now the homeless person or family has to contact each agency, often having to go there to physically fill out an intake (it’s how the agencies get paid). It’s a broken system that is completely inefficient, and is a huge reason why so many homeless people just give up!

I often get frustrated and take to Twitter to vent. Over last few years, a few people would engage me with healthy conversation on data in homeless services. Well, that’s how this first Google Hangout started. For some time now I have been thinking about producing a Google Hangout on various topics. Now that I have ‘a little time on my hands,’ I asked a few friends to join me to talk about data in homeless services.

David Henderson, founder and CEO of Idealistics IncMichael Shore, CEO of Hom Inc & Operations Director for 100,000 Homes, Marcella Maguire, Director of DBH Homeless Services at City of Philadelphia, and Iain De Jong, President & CEO of OrgCode, all took time out of their busy day to join me online for this important conversation on an important topic. I know it changed my thinking in a few areas! Please feel free to add your thoughts about data and homelessness in the comments. I’d also like to hear other topic ideas you may have.

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