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HMIS Action Alert
(published January 25, 2012)

What is the issue?
Why should you respond?
What are possible outcomes?
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
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.
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.

National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033
202-462-4822
info@nationalhomeless.org

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Page last modified: January 25, 2012

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