California’s Project Roomkey Evaluation: State Needs Better Data Sharing Across Agencies

An evaluation of an innovative pandemic housing program in California highlighted the need to create data-sharing agreements between state agencies and departments to better understand the homelessness crisis.

Project Roomkey (PRK) was a statewide effort in California in 2020 during the pandemic to provide homeless people with the option to temporarily stay in hotel and motel rooms and trailers as an alternative to staying on the streets or in shelters. TO recently published evaluation of the program found that PRK not only met its original goal of saving lives, but the program also improved the way interim housing is designed and operated in some California communities.

The California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, in collaboration with the California Department of Social Services, contracted with Abt Associates to conduct an evaluation of the PRK program. The purpose of this evaluation was to understand your successes and challenges and the experiences and outcomes of PRK participants.

Researchers found that data access is a challenge across all agencies and departments in the state of California.

The evaluation team hoped to match identifiable data from the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal ICH) Homeless Data Integration System (HDIS) with health data, including data from Medicaid (Medi-Cal ) from the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and death data. record data from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or the Department of Healthcare Access and Information (HCAI).

Due to restrictions on data sharing, Abt created a backup plan to collect homeless services data on a personal level. Abt’s backup plan was to obtain identifiable data from local communities’ Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) on PRK participants and compare that data to local or state health data. In order to request and analyze data from the health system, they first needed to obtain identifiable HMIS/HDIS data to identify who was using PRK across the state. Unfortunately, there were obstacles to both plans and the Abt team was unable to collect identifiable data from the state’s homeless services system or local communities and therefore was unable to request data from health systems.

One of the policy recommendations of the evaluation report is that data sharing agreements need to be created between state agencies and departments to better understand the homelessness crisis in California. “Homeless people utilize social and health safety net programs that span many of the state’s agencies and departments. “There needs to be a way to share, analyze, and evaluate data while analyzing public programs and benefits, which often exist in different data systems and are protected by different legalities,” the authors wrote. “To better understand the statewide homelessness crisis and evaluate what is working well, we must understand how people interact with the numerous public systems, programs and benefits; what combination of programs and benefits is best to prevent and resolve homelessness; and who is most at risk of homelessness.”

Researchers found that the design, implementation, and demobilization of PRK programs in California offer some lessons for providing temporary and emergency housing to populations with complex needs. “The continued use of hotels and motels alongside existing residential buildings was critical to the COVID-19 response and could prove useful in response to the current homelessness crisis, natural disasters, or future public health emergencies.”

Another policy recommendation from the report is to encourage the use of funds from Medi-Cal Managed Care Plans (MCPs) and Medi-Cal waivers for supports and services for homeless individuals in residential settings.

The authors also suggest that MCPs should also invest in their local homeless response systems through incentive programs, community benefits, or flexible hiring. “In addition, the state needs to expand mechanisms that already exist (for example, the Assisted Living Waiver and the Home and Community Based Alternative Waiver) to provide more supports and services to seniors and people with disabilities who are find themselves homeless as they move into permanent housing. .”

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