Database Capacity Assessment

Published: December 22, 2012

NOTE: This toolkit was published by Building Changes in 2013 to help counties meet a 2014 state mandate that all counties have a coordinated entry system for clients entering the homeless system. It has not been updated since then and does not necessarily reflect current or best practice.


If a region has an HMIS in place, it will need to review the system’s capacity to support a coordinated entry system for all populations. A capacity assessment of the data system, whether HMIS, alternative database formats, or a combination of HMIS and other database platforms, should take place to confirm that the data systems can collect information for all homeless and at-risk households, regardless of whether a region opts to initially roll out coordinated entry for only one homeless population type, such as families.

Building capacity for the database to collect information for all populations and associated services during the planning and implementation process provides opportunities to address functional issues for all populations before launch. This also potentially prevents having to shut down the system later to add the capacity to serve all populations.

HUD offers a capacity assessment tool that was developed to comply with HEARTH rules. The guide can be a useful tool to open up areas of consideration for a coordinated-entry database system and needed changes. It is especially helpful in detailing:

  • Client data needs
  • Case management supports
  • Security settings
  • Reporting capacity: import/export data
  • User training features
  • Data sharing
  • Technology standards to support the system

HUD’s database capacity assessment tool can be found here.

HMIS Assessment and Solution Examples

Because HMIS’s were not initially designed to track all the details of a coordinated entry system, parallel databases are a logical solution to adding capacity to HMIS without having to recreate a complete database. Other coordinated entry components that may require a parallel database are:

  • Waitlists
  • Case management services
  • Housing inventory
  • Housing placement roster
  • Rental assistance resources
  • Eligibility requirements

Here are two examples of how communities adjusted their data-collection systems to accommodate coordinated entry:

King County, Washington: Currently the coordinated entry system in King County is focused on homeless families. The county opted to use the City of Seattle HMIS platform called Safe Harbors for its coordinated entry system. For Safe Harbors to be an effective data-collection system for coordinated entry, the county had to add the capacity to house all assessment and inventory-tracking tools.

These assessment and inventory tools are part of an addition called an HMIS flow-through, which is compatible with Safe Harbors. This add-on feature increased the capacity of Safe Harbors to collect intake and comprehensive assessment data for the system. When King County is ready to expand coordinated entry for all populations, Safe Harbors could be adapted in a similar way to include that data.

Hennepin County, Minnesota: Depending on the design of the system, additional data-collection needs may require the use of parallel systems. In Hennepin County, HMIS is used for collecting assessment information, and another system called MAXIS is used for case-management information.

Database Considerations

HMIS and parallel database-systems data must be compatible to merge data for comprehensive analysis and reporting. This feature is necessary. Also important are these key database features:

  • Intake and assessment information can be entered in real time and can support multiple users at the same time.
  • A filter and drop-down menu ensures that only those resources for which individuals and families are eligible and that meet their needs are available for referrals; this avoids subjective input from the screening/intake staff and ensures that the specific client self-reported need is matched appropriately with agency self-reported services.
  • Databases should be able to track households from entry to exit as well as whether households had re-entered services within a set period of time
  • Capability to track prevention services, even if not part of the initial coordinated entry system
  • Providers should be able to connect client outcomes to the providers that participated in assisting an individual or family, to reinforce a sense of shared responsibility and accountability.
  • Evaluation data on the system itself and on services provided should be able to be cross-referenced with the intake and comprehensive assessment data.

Next: Data-Sharing Standards, Agreements and Examples

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