UT Database Will Link Homeless Shelters

The University of Tennessee is building a computer network to link local shelters and other providers of services to the homeless in order to provide better, more efficient services.

Drs. Roger Nooe and David Patterson of UT’s College of Social Work will co-direct the new Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), funded by $277,790 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care program in Knox County. An additional $69,447 in matching funds for the project is being sought from local HMIS partners and foundations.

Nooe said the HMIS network will enhance communication, coordination of services, and sharing of information among organizations that help the homeless.

“With the complexity of the problems of homelessness, the more coordination services and resources you have, the better the Knoxville community will be at addressing the problem of ending homelessness,” Nooe said.

“This information system links agencies so they can enter data on homeless clients. It will enhance our ability to count homeless populations, identify service needs, provide a service delivery tracking system, and lead to better coordination among agencies.”

Nooe has studied local homelessness since 1985.

“My research has often been point-in-time studies,” Nooe said. “This system will enable us to determine the extent of the homeless population and the service demand over a course-of-time basis.”

Patterson said UT is one of only two universities in the nation working to link local homeless shelters into a database.

“The UT College of Social Work is in a unique position to be a broker and facilitator in this process,” Patterson said.

“The College of Social Work-s Office of Research and Public Service has the technological know-how and staff to coordinate training and run the network hardware and software for the project. On the research/academic side, we have the expertise in terms of research on the homeless and analysis of complex data sets.

“My background is in the application of information technology in the social services, so it is a nice confluence of events and skills.”

Patterson said the management information system should be working by fall. Local shelters housing 90 percent of beds for the homeless already have indicated desire to participate, he said.

UT may seek to expand it to link homeless service facilities across Tennessee and create a statewide database, he said.

“We are looking at the possibility of an infrastructure to extract data statewide so we can track service delivery to people with a history of mental illness, substance abuse treatment, or other problems with an eye to improve those services,” Patterson said. “We are actively seeking partners and research funding for this endeavor.”

Patterson said a statewide system would collect anonymous information, preserve the privacy of those receiving services, and allow researchers to track what services are provided, for how long, and to what effect.

Ultimately, data from the homeless management information systems will enable homeless services providers in cooperation with city, county, and state agencies to improve coordination and delivery of services to homeless individuals and families, he said.

“The overarching goals are to improve our ability to effectively and efficiently serve individuals, families, and children in need and advance our efforts to end homelessness,- Patterson said.