ACTION ALERT: Report the Truth to Congress on Homelessness: Privacy Rights! Fair Funding! True Stats!

HMIS Action Alert
(published January 25, 2012)

HUD must only and always report the truth to Congress on Homelessness. Take action now! HUD is accepting comments on final HMIS rules until February 7, 2012. The rules will determine how & when homeless people will be counted, privacy rights, funding levels for local shelters and services. HUD needs to hear from YOU & all local communities. We must balance the needs of the social service community with the rights of those seeking help.

What is the issue?
HUD is seeking comments on the rules for collecting information from homeless individuals at the shelters and aggregating that information to deliver statistics to Congress. Comments due to HUD by February 7, 2012.

Why should you respond?
The final rules will determine the privacy rights for those seeking help. The numbers collected and the outcomes could determine the funding levels for local shelters. The experiences with HMIS at the  local level are important.

What are possible outcomes?
HMIS can be costly to implement locally. A goal of HMIS is to balance the needs of the social service community with the rights of those seeking support. Overall, HMIS should provoke greater incite into solving homelessness.

To respond to the new proposed rules:
Send Comments using the federal eRulemaking Website: http://www.regulations.gov

Docket Number FR-5475-P-01 Title: Homeless Management Information Systems Requirements

Save a copy of the body of your comments and send them to info@nationalhomeless.org for our records at the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Background:
Please use this outline as a basis for submitting comments to HUD regarding the proposed rules for HMIS that were released in  December. It is important to add your local statistics, experiences, and examples to augment this list.

Comments are due to HUD by February 7, 2012 and can be submitted to www.regulations.gov by using the docket
and title of the proposed rules. The National Coalition is urging local advocates, social service providers and those experiencing homelessness to submit comments on these new rules. We believe that HMIS can be a huge burden on a small non-profit trying to provide services to those struggling with their housing, but can have great rewards in coordinating services, reducing paperwork, and providing high quality referrals to those experiencing homelessness.

Here are some comments that you can use in submitting a response to these rules. We urge you to include local activities and examples to support these comments. We believe that HUD officials will listen to local caretakers of the homeless population and your concerns over HMIS.

Comments Regarding HMIS
(Our local group) has accepted the use of HMIS to improve the delivery of services to those experiencing homelessness, but we do not support the use of HMIS as a system to report the extent of homelessness to Congress. We have seen that the statistics are often mistaken for a count of the total number of people homeless in a city or county. No matter how many qualifiers are included in the national Annual Homeless Assessment Report, both elected officials and the media mismanage the data as a complete count of homelessness. There is such wide disparity in how this data is collected that there is no way to compare among service provider and certainly between
cities this case management data. We believe that a voluntary case management system would be worthwhile to collect data, but a mandatory system that attempts to collect an unduplicated count is nearly impossible in such a fractured system.

In a period of tightening budgets and federal cuts, we believe that these resources could be redirected to basic human services or housing assistance instead of the administrative services of counting people. We see the value of one electronic case management system overseen by HUD used by every social service provider in a community. If the eventual goal is to arrive at the number of homeless people in a city or state as stated by Congress, we believe that HUD would receive much better information by funding local experts to conduct a census in representative cities. We believe that local universities or foundations in various size representative cities, suburbs, and rural jurisdictions could develop an accurate estimate of the number of homeless people and then they could use that data to extrapolate a national estimate of homelessness.

That being said we do have concerns about the proposed rules that were released in December 2011.

  1. It should be made clear that there is not a minimum participation rate by clients for the social service provider. The user who is experiencing a housing emergency and refuses to enter data should not result in a penalty or an issue with the performance standards for the local social service provider. [It would be good
    to add a local example of this issue from your community]. If a user refuses to enter their social security number or other personal identifying information that should not result in a reduction in public support or a sanction for the social service provider. The shelter or meal program should be held harmless if their clients decide to withhold personal required in the HMIS database.
  2. We believe that the security standards should emphatically and unequivocally state that law enforcement agencies should not have access to personal identifying information contained within the HMIS data without a warrant signed by a member of the judicial branch of government. We understand that some  communities have the local sheriff maintains the HMIS data.
  3. We believe that the requirement for every publicly funded homeless service provider contribute data to a central management system is an unfunded mandate from the federal government. There should be dedicated resources separate from the Emergency Solutions Grant or Continuum funding to implement this project. [It would be good to add local information on the number of staff dedicated strictly to entering data at your
    facility.]
  4. We believe that there are a number of state privacy laws that make it difficult for local agencies to submit data under these proposed rules. [Many states have strict controls over the use of social security numbers when accessing government services, which could present a conflict for the local provider who also receives federal continuum funding. If you know that this is the case in your state, please site specific local or state law.]
  5. We believe that the HMIS security standards should be subject to HUD oversight and public comment. The security standards, local policies and procedures and grievance process should be posted on an easily accessible publicly available website. Those experiencing homelessness should be able to submit comment
    and have those comments responded to by the local HMIS Lead in an easy and accessible manner.
  6. There are no protections for clients outlined for improper usage or improper release of data especially privacy violations by an HMIS Lead organization. We believe that if there is a break down in privacy at the local level and the policies and procedures break down there should be a way for an individual seeking assistance or currently utilizing a Continuum funded program to file a grievance with a government agency with regard to HMIS. In addition, with the exchange of data among local providers and the transient nature of the population, it is often difficult for a person experiencing homelessness to determine where a security
    breach originated. We believe that a government agency should be the final arbiter of a complaint especially if there are repeated problems with the protection of privacy at the local level. This is especially important if the HMIS Lead organizations are also permitted to be collectors of personal and private client data as service providers as well.
  7. Since this data is being used by the public and Congress for planning and local decision making on the proper allocation of resources, there should be a way for advocates or the public to challenge the data’s accuracy. There should be a way for the HUD to accept challenges to the unduplicated numbers submitted
    as either a significant undercount or an over-count of the actual number of homeless people in a community as is policy for the US Census. These comments should be included with the release of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
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One Response to ACTION ALERT: Report the Truth to Congress on Homelessness: Privacy Rights! Fair Funding! True Stats!

  1. Bill Piechota says:

    Sometimes the “SACRED” confidentiality policies are detrimental to the homeless individual. We have been frustrated in our search for my friends missing sister. Margaret is an adult suffering from severe mental illness and was dropped off in a city about 90 miles from her home by her husband. Since that discovery our search for her
    has been frustrated in part by adherance to a sensless code of secrecy. She is in poor shape physically and seems to be working her way back to her childhood home. We recently found she California and is now in Louisville only 5 hours from her childhood home. If she’s trying to get there will she make it before something happens? If she doesn’t I would like to sue all those shelters who inovked this policy. I wan’t to advocate for the homeless but some of the “rules” actually have great potential to harm them. A little common sense. If she didn’t want to contact no harm we can’t force her to go with us but she’s alone without resources and we want to find her and offer help. Money, a cell phone, a ride, whatever and agencies “I’m sorry we can’t tell you if she’s…” Bull crap, why not? What law? HIPAA ? I’m not asking for her medical records. What are they protecting? She doesn’t bath, is malnurished and been hospitalized for dehydration even when she still lived at home with her “loving” husband. She has no money and is not of sound mind, what could we possibly want from her except to help and we can’t because of privacy policies AND YOU WANT MORE! YOUR AFRAID OF INTRUSION? Believe me intrusion is needed in this situation

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