Merging RHYMIS and HMIS


Federal Policy Brief | April 9, 2012

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To prevent and end homelessness the field of homeless providers, advocates and researchers would greatly benefit from having only one management information system for the collection and reporting of outcomes on the size and characteristics of the homeless population. This is for two reasons: to reduce the time spent entering data into multiple systems; and most importantly, to develop better data on the size and nature of the homeless youth population.

Currently, the federal government requires homeless service providers to input data into two management information systems depending on which agency provides funding to a program. Grantees of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are required to input data into a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requires its youth homelessness providers to input data into its Runaway and Homeless Youth Management and Information System (RHYMIS). If a provider is a grantee of both departments then that grantee is required to input information into two management information systems. Approximately fifty percent of HHS grantees are also HUD grantees; therefore, these agencies must double the amount of time they spend on data entry. As HMIS collects more useful data and is the larger system, HMIS should be the only management information system required.

There is currently inadequate information on the size, characteristics and patterns of homeless youth. One reason for this is that youth are not reliably included in the data collected on homeless people via HMIS. Another is that the data collected by RHYMIS is not universally able to induplicate individuals to assess population size; rather it is focused on measuring program outputs. HMIS is currently used to assess the size and nature of homelessness, and including youth data will make this picture more accurate, as well as enable much improved data on youth homelessness.

To accomplish this, federal agencies should work collaboratively to consolidate youth homelessness data collection efforts into HUD’s HMIS. The benefits of having HMIS as the sole database include having standardized data elements for all homeless assistance providers to improve knowledge of the number, characteristics and experiences of all homeless persons; and to improve the effort to right size interventions to prevent and end homelessness. Moreover, administrative costs will decrease and efficiency and effectiveness will increase by requiring only one data entry for each person experiencing homelessness.

To ensure that HMIS meets the data needs of all homeless assistance providers and both federal agencies distributing funding, HMIS should be expanded to capture the youth-centered data that RHYMIS currently collects such as:

  • The age of unaccompanied children and youth under 18 and reporting on the number of youth between the ages of 18 and 24 to be in alignment with the HUD definition of unaccompanied youth.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity all homeless clients regardless of age.
  • Any additional information that HHS identifies is necessary to be in alignment with its runaway and homeless youth outcomes such as: (1) Grade completion at entrance, (2) Length of stay in foster care and juvenile justice, and (3) Physical and mental health status.