Council gives green light for funding of Homeless Outreach Street Team

A homeless man sleeps in downtown Austin, across the street from APD headquarters. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
A homeless man sleeps in downtown Austin, across the street from APD headquarters. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin is spending more money on the homeless after approving nearly $250,000 to connect them with mental health service providers who work on the city’s Homeless Outreach Street Team, or HOST.

Thursday, the city approved and made $242,354 available for Austin-Travis County Integral Care — money that will pay for clinicians and any additional hours worked by someone who can prescribe medications to individuals in the field.

HOST started as a pilot program in June 2016. It’s comprised of Austin police, mental health providers, paramedics, the Downtown Austin Community Court and Downtown Austin Alliance. Paired with mental health professionals from Integral Care, officers patrol the streets and ask the homeless population what they need.

The test initiative was using existing resources to determine the effectiveness of the program, now the extra money can help keep those positions while funding others.

Austin Police Officer Shelly Borton has been part of HOST since the beginning.

“Our days consist of going out, meeting homeless people where they are at like churches, the ARCH, at other facilities that serve the homeless and we basically just go out and engage people and see if there are any services that they need. Whether we can connect them to housing mental health services substance-abuse treatment those types of things,” Borton says.

Borton has helped people like Darryl Brandenburg.

“My wife passed away and things kind of went downhill,” Brandenburg said.

In 2012, at the age of 55, Brandenburg became homeless in Austin, and still has no place to call home. However, recently, HOST helped connect him with a case worker at the Downtown Austin Community Court.

“I got my survivor benefits through my late wife’s social security, widower’s benefits. So I have an income finally.”

It’s those steps in the right direction that HOST says is proof it’s working. According to Integral Care, the HOST program connected with 1,749 people from June 1, 2016, through April 30. Of those, 115 received mental health care, 104 joined housing programs and 121 met health care providers.

It also saved taxpayers money by diverting 31 people from emergency rooms, 20 from jail and 17 from psychiatric hospitals.

However, HOST is focused only on the downtown and West Campus areas. Advocates say it’s enough of a success story to expand.

“We’d like to see these outreach services available county-wide because people don’t just live downtown, they live everywhere,” said Ellen Richards, chief strategy officer of Integral Care.

That will take more money, more resources and eventually a decision from the city whether to keep the program around.

“We get calls from other parts of town where there’s other populations of homeless people and we would like the ability and more resources to go out and engage more people,” Borton said.

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