by / Monday, 18 February 2008 / Published in Uncategorized


There is a group of people committed exclusively to the needs of the homeless who meet voluntarily on their own time every other Saturday morning, 8am  at what we are now calling the 1Matters Saturday meetings. 

Some of these people are the homeless or formerly homeless, some are Food for Thought volunteers who are helping the homeless, as well as several agencies serving the homeless in our community.  A great round group of talent.

The mission of these meetings is simply to find ways to help more people get what they need to get off the streets and into autonomy. Our early success have been noted in the last post, and there is much more exciting work to do. 

This past Saturday was one of the most incredible meetings I have ever attended in 17 years in this cause.   The excitement in the room was literally palpable.  It is not often one is involved in one of those “Eureka!” moments, but so it was. 

We had our usual suspects at the meeting as well as a new guest, Jeanette Hrovatich with United Way’s 211.  Jeanette shared all of the programs United Way has, and the intent of 211. 

She also mentioned how they had used a new system called Refer7 this past Christmas to administer the Christmas Basket program through several agencies.  This streamlined delivery and reduced duplication.

The cool thing was after the Christmas program, the United Way contacted people that came to make them aware of other programs they might be able to take advantage of. 

Let’s repeat this again, they contacted the guests to tell them what else was available!  Now THIS is customer service! 

Refer7 maintains a list of all of the programs and services one might qualify for, and is part of the 211 system software. For the sake of simplicity look at it as a customer service program tracking system.   

So with this kind of capacity, our conversation veered to how can this capacity be used to help the homeless? 


One of the problems we heard from the homeless at the 1/5 meeting is they don’t know what are all programs they might qualify for, nor do they know where to go to get it.  And there is soooo much new stuff, new programs that case workers naturally can’t keep up. 

Everyone knows the 211 paradigm as the 1-stop shop for people to find services.  They are now in the final beta stages of  putting the 211 database on the internet. A cool thing about that is agencies will be able to directly add or delete programs they offer as needed. 

So a homeless individual can get registered online at any agency. Then all along the pipeline of services, different programs can be offered that are tailored to the individual’s need!  In other words, 1Matters!  1 at a time!

So a case manager   anywhere in the system of services can enter new individuals and have access to what programs the person has already connected with, and what more he/she could get connected with. They can be uniquely identified by their last 4 digits of their SSN.  

There are no privacy issues as this is a completely voluntary “referral” system.  If you want to participate you can.  If you don’t participate (register) you can still get any of the services, they are just not delivered to you on a palette. 

The advantage of Refer7 is that if an individual registers, all of these programs can be immediately listed and available including any new programs added, whether it be a new ID program, or $100 for getting a GED. (Both real programs.)

I think the best way to look at it is like a shopper’s loyalty program.  If you register you can get access to all these items.  Like your shopper’s card that knows everything you ever bought at the store, this system will also keep track of the programs utilized which can save agencies the duplication of services or repetitive customers.  

Now, this is already the coolest thing in world.  But there’s more!  What if this system was tied into the various databases that aready exist such as the mental health system database which now includes the prisoner release program, or even health system databases?  

Hear this, one of the coolest things about our 1Matters Saturday group is our attitude is not about why it cannot be done, rather it is what would it take to get it done? 

As for privacy issues, there are none as this is completely voluntary.  The only data collected will be the data necessary for you to qualify for services.  (Name, address etc.) You will sign a release that this info can be shared with any agency providing services you might seek. 

There is no problem with the exporting with other databases either.

  • No medical/privacy information will be shared between databases. 
  • Databases have a feature called data mapping.  The short version is databases are made up of fields, for example “first name”, “last name”, “address”, etc. If your database has twenty fields, 5 of which are private/confidential, only the 15 non-private fields are mapped and added to the merged database. 
  • HIPPA does not apply to this system is a referral system, not a healthcare database.  
  • As for the domestic violence agencies, the services will still be able to be accessed by case managers without registering an individual, just as services are available now. 
  •  This also solves the new caseworker issue.  It takes new caseworkers a long time to learn learn what and where all the programs are in town or how to access them.  This puts all that info at their fingertips, updated daily.

Pretty good work for a Saturday morning wouldn’t you say?

There are many details to be configured yet.  Next Saturday we will be having our Saturday morning meeting at 8.10 am at United Way so Jeanette can demo the systems as they exist now.  We have already found a couple database experts to advise us on the technical aspects.

Continuing HMIS Saga

As all of you know we have been challenging HMIS because the data is often called incomplete or inaccurate, except when it comes to planning and getting more money, it is conveyed as accurate. (huh? I know!) 

All I was trying to figure out is what are it’s strengths, and what needs to be improved.  

I have been turned back at every attempt.  This makes me start to wonder what they are hiding.

From TLC leadership I hear “those 15 questions we ask are all we are required by HUD to do to get funding”, and then from the other side from the agencies I hear some say they are too busy to get/enter those 15 questions. They actually say that if we expect them to enter information about their clients, they would need to hire more staff.  

Listen to this, two of the agencies that say this the loudest have static populations of 12-14 guests!  With turnover let’s say they get 1 new guest a month, they are saying that if they have to take 1/2 hour a month to put in data, they need another full time person to enter it.  Rather than use one of the 5-7 staff members, or any of the case managers they already have!  

So in the at least 960 man hours a month, 30 minutes can’t be used to enter data about a guest.   They say they need money so they can hire another person at $35k or so a year to do that?  Riiiight!

As you all know we are working in the legal system now to get the information on HMIS so it can be open and accountable to the community and the homeless. 

I am completely surprised the agencies and TAAEH members aren’t more upset at an HMIS system that documents that they are only filled to capacity only 51% of the time.  They want to call it inaccurate, but that is the only data we have!

So we will continue the effort to get the information we need to improve the system for the homeless.   The agencies are being told inaccurately that we are seeking client data, which is inaccurate.   I will be sending them all an email explaining our position so they understand fact. 

We believe the homeless deserve better, in fact deserve their best.  And all of us at 1Matters are going to work to see that they do.