In 2014, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services stepped up to fill a gap in the community by investing in two positions dedicated to housing and homelessness data.
These positions are collectively focused on ensuring that we collect quality, useful and timely data and that we are connecting data to the community so that it can be used to inform funding, programs and policy.
This post is the first in a series that takes a deep dive into data quality: specifically, looking at data in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) database. Data quality, which includes examining completeness and consistency, rarely takes center stage but it is essential to understanding the scope and nature of problems and identifying solutions.
WHY WE ENTER DATA INTO HMIS AND WHY IT MATTERS
Homelessness and housing providers enter data into the HMIS database. To receive CoC and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) homelessness assistance dollars, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC) is required by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to operate an HMIS database. To fulfill their statutory requirement and protect the privacy and safety of their clients, victim services providers (VSPs) such as domestic violence shelters, enter data into a comparable database. In addition, there are some providers who do not receive any Federal (CoC, ESG, VA, RHYMIS, HOPWA) funding who voluntarily enter data into HMIS. It is important to have all homelessness and housing providers participate so that there can be a full and comprehensive picture of the system.
At the state and federal levels, local HMIS data is aggregated with data from other communities and used to inform planning and policy decisions. HMIS data can also be used by the local community to understand need and service utilization, measure program and system performance, and set local funding priorities.
WHO ENTERS DATA INTO HMIS AND WHY IT MATTERS
Data quality can become impacted at any point of the data collection cycle from entering, storing, extracting, or analyzing data. There are over 240 HMIS end users entering data for 24 different housing and services providers in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC). While each provider differs in its processes and services, all providers are responsible for meeting funder and CoC HMIS data quality standards.
In addition, data entry happens at multiple touchpoints during a household’s matriculation through the homeless and housing system, starting at Coordinated Entry / NC 2-1-1 when a household first calls for assistance. Standard data elements and locally defined metrics are collected at entry and exit and updated at least annually, depending upon the program and funding requirements.
In 2018, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg CoC implemented system-wide data sharing. This system improvement allows providers to view client interactions across the system enabling improved coordination of care among homeless-serving agencies. It has reduced client burden as it has decreased the amount of duplicate data entry required and decreased the number of times clients must recount their personal information and experiences to caseworkers. Data sharing has resulted in improved data quality by facilitating the collection of more consistent and accurate data, the correction of inaccurate data in HMIS, and improving the identification of duplicate client records in HMIS.
In addition to the important work providers do every day to shelter and house individuals and families, the time carved out for data entry and review is also vital. Unless we have good data quality, we cannot put our data to use to inform decisions in the community.
End users are trained to enter and review their data quality. Providers are encouraged to review their program-level data quality. The full system is charged with monitoring and review system data quality.
As part of this work, Mecklenburg County Community Supportive Services will release a new page next week dedicated to community data quality on the Housing & Homeless Dashboard. Beginning in July, the page will be updated regularly with information on system-level data quality measures. Next week’s blog post will provide a link to the page and breakdown of the information on the page.
Knowing our data is good is key to using our data for good.
Courtney Morton coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.