The City of Spokane Homeless Management Information System
To effectively address the needs of their homeless population, communities must be able to count the number of homeless individuals and gain a better understanding of the challenges those individuals face. In 1995, the Human Services Department of the city of Spokane, WA took on the challenge of counting the homeless and began developing a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) that contains a database and a Homeless Coalition Web site.
Spokane's HMIS was designed to achieve an accurate count of homeless individuals living in the city in order to better understand their needs and to improve communication among homeless providers. Spokane's Human Services Department has now received nationwide attention for its success in developing the database. In 1998, the system received the John J. Gunther Best Practices Blue Ribbon Award from HUD and the Association of Washington Cities Municipal Achievement Award. Since 1999, the Human Services Department has worked with the University of Pennsylvania on numerous reports about the prevalence of homelessness, and on a report on the effects of welfare reform.
Developing the System
From the beginning, the Spokane's Human Services Department collaborated with organizations that help the homeless to develop Spokane's data intake system. The collaboration resulted in the installation of a networked, computerized system and the creation of standardized forms - intake, assessment, discharge, and follow-up - that homeless providers use when working with each homeless client or household. When a homeless person seeks services at any of the participating organizations, she must complete an intake form or a contact log form. Those who participate in more intensive services, such as case management or sheltering, must complete the detailed assessment form at intake and again at discharge. All forms are then entered into Spokane's centralized system.
The data is used to measure needs and outcomes over time as the homeless
transition through the various services. To include those who do not
routinely connect to services, multi-agency outreach teams systematically
canvass places where homeless people gather, complete contact log forms
for those they meet, and enter the information in the database.
The Core and Unique Features
Since its inception in 1995, the number of organizations reporting to the database has increased steadily, enabling the system to capture and track more information about the homeless population in Spokane. In 2001, Spokane made significant improvements to the system that included updating the intake and assessment forms to add specific geographic information and to track needs within specific communities and neighborhoods. Some of the core and unique features of the system are as follows:
Capabilities of the System
Using HMIS, Spokane can generate statistics like these, which were gathered for calendar year 2001:
In addition to demographic information, Spokane's HMIS provides housing, employment, education, training, health care, and employment exit and outcome data that can be used by community planners, government officials, and funders.
Measuring homelessness has traditionally been either incomplete or largely anecdotal. The Spokane Human Services Department has taken a large step in counting the homeless and quantifying poverty in their region-the first step toward understanding the needs of this community and providing appropriate services to help them out of homelessness and into a more stable situation.