By ERIC HE | city news service
LOS ANGELES — Seeking to help homeless coordinators, the Los Angeles City Council voted on Wednesday to support better access to the Homeless Management Information System, a database of services provided to people homeless – despite privacy concerns.
The council voted 13 to 0 to request a report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on granting access to HMIS to city council district homeless coordinators, who work with specific council offices .
Using client-level data, the HMIS is designed to capture information over time about people entering or exiting homeless assistance systems. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it “provides the most accurate picture of the extent and nature of homelessness within a community.”
Allowing staff to access this information would allow coordinators to know the case manager assigned to people experiencing homelessness who has been registered in the system. This would allow faster access to housing solutions when they become available and streamline the process of connecting people to housing, according to a motion tabled by Councilman Kevin de León.
Several organizations that work with the homeless submitted statements to the council opposing the article, citing concerns that homeless people’s private information would be shared more widely.
“This dramatic expansion of access without the necessary safeguards would do more harm than help,” Zeke Sandoval, public policy manager at People Assisting the Homeless, wrote to the council.
Sarah Rubinstein, head of the homeless initiative at United Way of Greater Los Angeles, wrote to the council that the group was concerned that HMIS “is being used for screening rather than entry.”
“Clients have provided consent for their information to be shared with service providers, not council offices,” Rubinstein said. “Without explicit changes to consent forms, access sharing can violate privacy rights and further undermine trust in the system.”
Councilman Mike Bonin voted for it, but warned that information such as a homeless person’s medical or criminal history is not necessary for council staff or elected officials to have access to. He supported methods that would allow information to be accessed in a limited capacity, “without raising concerns about the breach or disclosure of private or privileged information”.
Other board members disputed the idea that their staff could not trust information from HMIS.
According to de León, chair of the council’s homelessness and poverty committee, several representatives of homeless service providers called the committee’s last meeting and made “very irresponsible” public comments against the access that “deeply concerned” him.
“I highly doubt there are any nefarious attempts to use this information, monetize it, access criminal records or use it for political purposes,” de León said.
Councilor Paul Krekorian said people have every right to hold the council accountable for how it tackles homelessness.
“Give us at least the information we need so that someone who is dying on the streets will get the services they need that will save their life,” Krekorian said. “For anyone to stand up and say that members of this council and our staff should be deprived of this information – even though we are not doing enough to get people off the streets – is foolish.”
Susie Shannon, policy director for Housing is a Human Right, told the council that she has been asking for years that non-profit homeless service providers who receive taxpayers’ money “have some accountability. from this council”.
“It’s the least you can do as a council to help our homeless community,” Shannon said.
A speaker who said she was trying to find accommodation asked the council why homeless people were unable to access HMIS on their own. She told the council that she had contacted various agencies to try to find her HMIS number, but had been unsuccessful.
“I’m not in a position to go ahead and do anything with this registry (for housing) if I don’t have access to it,” the speaker said.
Several council members agreed and said they would work to allow customers to access the system.
Bonin called it “ironic” that the council was asking for information about HMIS when “the average person who isn’t housed” doesn’t have access to it.
“As interested as I am in making sure we have access to help people, if we don’t come up with a system that gives them the agency and the ability to access and influence their own transition off the streets, we always come up with real shorts,” Bonin said.