According to the HUD Data Manual, this should be the last date a person slept somewhere that was not on the streets, in an emergency shelter or Safe Haven: “Record the approximate date this homeless situation began. Have the client look back to the date of the last time the client had a place to sleep that was not on the streets, Emergency Shelter (ES) or Safe Haven (SH), and enter that date.”

In the instructions above, HUD is using “the streets” as short-hand for any place unfit for human habitation (a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport or camping ground). 

The key concepts to help determine the approximate start date are:

  1. Have the client look back to the date of the last time the client had a place to sleep that was not on the streets, ES, or SH.
  2. As the client looks back, there may be breaks in their stay on the streets, ES or SH. The breaks are allowed to be included in the look back period to calculate the approximate start date ONLY:
    • If the client moved continuously between the streets, shelters, or safe havens. The date would go back as far as the first time they stayed in one of those places; or
    • If the break in their time on the street, ES or SH was less than 7 nights. A break is considered 6 or less consecutive nights not residing in a place not meant for human habitation, in shelter or in a Safe Haven. The look back time would not be broken by a stay less than 7 consecutive nights; or
    • If the break in their time on the streets, ES, or SH was less than 90 days due to an institutional stay (i.e. jail, substance abuse or mental health treatment facility, hospital, or other similar facility). The look back time would include all of those days (up to 89 days) when looking back for the start date.
  3. If the client knows the actual date – enter the date they indicate. If they know the month and year but not the day, the worker may substitute the day of the month with the same day of the month as project entry. For example: a client enters the project on March 15, 2015. During the intake interview, the client answers the start date question with a response of “a couple of months”. The worker clarifies - “It’s March, would that mean you started sleeping on the streets in January this year?” Client affirms, yes, January. The worker clarifies: “Do you know the day?” Client responds: “no.” - Worker then enters January 15 (day of the month of project entry), (this year).
  4. If the HMIS displays information about the person’s entry date on the streets, ES or SH, the worker may share that information with the client to help jog their memory. However, administrative information may not be substituted for the information provided directly by the client or entered in lieu of asking the client the question.


#2 here is the trickiest and it’s what HUD's new 3.917 data element is trying to encompass. If a person stayed somewhere other than on the streets, in a safe haven or emergency shelter for more than seven consecutive nights, then that is considered a break in homelessness. Their approximate start date would fall after that date range. So, if they were on the streets or in emergency shelter from December 1-15, but they stayed with a family member from the 16-26 and were back on the streets again on the 27th, their approximate start date would be 12/27, not 12/1.