October 17, 2019

HMIS Experience

Founded in 1998, Simtech Solutions Inc. provides technical solutions to support communities effectively understand and address the issue of homelessness.  Our tools and staff help regions quantify the extent of the problem, isolate the contributing factors, and implement data-driven decision making processes into daily operations. 

We are a socially-conscious technology firm that has been dedicated to the issue of homelessness since we built our first HMIS data warehouse back in 2002.  This original warehouse was built in response to a conversation that Simtech Solutions founder Matt Simmonds had with a friend of his, John Yazwinski.  John is the Executive Director of a local individual emergency shelter in Quincy, MA and told Matt of his organization’s struggles in pulling meaningful information out of their HMIS. 

This initial work was a pivotal moment for Simtech as we were able to take the knowledge we had gained in developing technology systems for big banks and leasing institutions and apply it to something more meaningful.   Terms like “cost-benefit analysis” and “return on investment” were relatively foreign concepts in a shelter environment where the daily focus was dealing with crisis. The first hypothesis we set out to prove was that it was more cost-effective to place people who were frequent users of shelter and emergency rooms into housing than it was to keep them homeless. 

Our research study led to Quincy, MA being awarded the Advanced Data Users Award from HUD for the groundbreaking work in which we demonstrated the community saved an average of $8,405 per person for the twelve women who were part of one of the original “Housing First” projects in the country.  The emotional rewards for this work far outweighed the financial rewards from working with banks and leasing institutions. 

From that point on, Simtech Solutions has been focused primarily on developing both the guidance and the technical solutions to address the issue of homelessness.  We have served as lead business architects for the Massachusetts’ Statewide Homelessness Operations and Research Environment (SHORE), business analysts for the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national registry of homeless veterans, and technical consultants for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development

Our work with HUD has largely been around providing tools and guidance to communities in an effort to better quantify the extent of homelessness and to measure the efficacy of the work being done to end it.  There are over twenty Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) software products in use around the country and this diversity can result in technical conflicts.  To ensure consistency between these products there need to be ground rules established.  Simtech Solutions helped to establish these ground rules through the authoring of such key documents as the HUD CSV 3.0 Exchange Format and the HUD Continuum of Care (CoC) Annual Performance Report (APR) Programming Specifications.  Reports such as the APR are submitted by HUD funded programs to demonstrate how Federal funds are being utilized and to provide detailed information on the individuals and families being served.

The HMIS Report Generation Tool was developed by Simtech Solutions and licensed by HUD in the wake of the Federal Stimulus.  HUD needed to report to Congress how the $1.5 billion in Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) funds were being spent and HMIS vendors had little time to code a new report in their system.  This Excel-based tool was developed in a manner that any grantee could produce the required report using data that was exported from any HMIS software that was capable of producing data in the HUD CSV Exchange Format.  The HMIS Report Generation Tool is still licensed by HUD as a tool for HMIS software vendors to ensure their programming logic of both the APR and the ESG CAPER is accurate and also for grantees to use as a backup for situations when their HMIS vendor is incapable of producing a valid report.

Mobile technology also has a place in addressing homelessness given that many that are experiencing homelessness reside outside.  While frontline staff working in shelters can often turn to a PC it is not that easy for street outreach workers or volunteers during the night of the annual homeless count.  For this reason, Simtech developed the Point in Time Counting Tool mobile app and the Point in Time Regional Command Center to receive data from it.  The app was licensed by HUD and subsequently purchased by the Federal agency.  Simtech Solutions continues to help regions automate the majority of the data collection and reporting aspects of the annual homeless census through our new app, Counting Us.  The app is available on both the App Store and Google Play and supports the PIT data collection for Rhode Island, Connecticut, South Dakota, Dallas, San Antonio, Reno, and several CoCs in both Massachusetts and Virginia. 

In addition, Simtech provides over 3,500 projects around the US with access to our HomelessData data warehouse platform.  HomelessData provides more advanced reporting than what is typically found within HMIS along with a comprehensive suite of tools to help ensure the integrity of the data.  Not only can it produce all of the HUD mandated reports but the warehouse can integrate data from multiple data sources, create reports for regions of any size or shape (not just HUD CoCs), is capable of producing prioritized “by name lists”, and is being used by communities such as the City of Detroit to measure the efficacy of the projects that operate within the region using custom project-performance dashboards.

Simtech Solutions has been building out the framework to better understand and respond to homelessness for years.  Coordinated Entry is next up on our list and we are excited by the impact that our new framework is going to help communities make on the issue of homelessness.