City Council to vote on funding for Homeless Outreach Street Team


The HOST program is still considered a pilot, but Austin police leaders hope to see it continue.

Austin officials estimate the homeless population to be around 2,000 people.

The Austin City Council on Thursday will be looking to bolster a fledgling city program that reaches out to homeless individuals and hooks them up with services to get them back on track.

The council’s agenda includes a funding arrangement to provide nearly $250,000 for mental health services providers who work on the city’s Homeless Outreach Street Team, or HOST.

HOST — composed of Austin police, emergency medical personnel, mental health care providers, the Downtown Austin Community Court and the Downtown Austin Alliance — took to the streets last June using three mental health professionals from Austin Travis County Integral Care. Darilynn Cardona-Beiler, associate director for Adult Behavioral Health at Integral Care, said those “outreach clinicians” had been borrowed from other programs.

As the program reaches its first anniversary, the city is expected to make $242,354 available for Integral Care. The money would pay for the clinicians and the additional hours worked by someone who would prescribe medications to individuals in the field.

The measure will shift the cost of the employees from Integral Care to the city, as was agreed when the program kicked off.

The program is still considered a pilot, but Assistant Police Chief Jason Dusterhoft said he and other leaders in the Police Department hope to see it continue.

“As of right now it is indefinite,” Dusterhoft said. “We believe we are seeing some great success with it, but we are also being challenged with a thin department.”

Eventually, city leaders will have to decide if the HOST program will stick around, but even with limited resources, Dusterhoft said the team has made substantial headway in Austin’s homeless community.

According to Integral Care records, the HOST program connected with 1,749 people from June 1, 2016, through April 30. Of those, 115 were connected with mental health care, 104 were connected with housing programs, and 121 were connected with health care providers.

“Working together as a team has really given us opportunity to do things we were not able to do before,” Cardona-Beiler said.

She said health care providers are going out to where homeless individuals congregate — such as around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, under bridges and near West Campus — to provide immediate care that often before had been delayed.

Dusterhoft said the estimated homeless population in Austin is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 people, so getting people off the streets and linked up with services that keep them off could substantially reduce that number.

“Eighty percent of them aren’t people who want to be on the street,” Dusterhoft said. “If they can have a semblance of a normal life, they want it.”

Dusterhoft said leaders associated with the program gathered for a panel discussion recently and expressed their hopes for the program.

“Everyone at the table basically said this is the one time in their career we have the opportunity to really change what is happening, and dealing with the central problem instead of putting Band-Aids on it,” he said.

The HOST program is just one way city leaders are focusing efforts on Austin’s homeless population. Austin police increased patrols around the ARCH and concentrated efforts on arresting drug dealers suspected of peddling K2 to the homeless.

Dusterhoft said police efforts in the area have led to a 44 percent decrease in calls since city leaders came together early in April to say they’d had enough of drug pushers targeting the most vulnerable population of Austin.

During an April 6 news conference at City Hall, Mayor Steve Adler used pointed words to address suspected dealers.

“For those who are orchestrating and profiting off this misery, I don’t know if there’s a special place in hell for them, but there is definitely a place in prison with their name on it,” he said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Trump: I’m not considering firing special counsel Mueller
Trump: I’m not considering firing special counsel Mueller

President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia probe that has shadowed the White House for much of his initial year in office. Trump returned to the White House from Camp David and was asked if he would consider triggering...
Trump says he won’t fire Mueller, as campaign to discredit Russia probe heats up
Trump says he won’t fire Mueller, as campaign to discredit Russia probe heats up

President Donald Trump on Sunday sought to douse speculation that he may fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller amid an intensifying campaign by Trump allies to attack the wide-ranging Russia investigation as improper and politically motivated.  Returning to the White House from Camp David, Trump was asked Sunday whether he intended to fire Mueller...
National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors
National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.  President Donald Trump will present the strategy, a kind of mission statement that guides policymaking, in a speech Monday...
Analysis: The one thing the self-employed want more than a tax cut
Analysis: The one thing the self-employed want more than a tax cut

Republicans say their tax cut benefits small businesses.  They're right, up to a point. Any business would be happy to see lower tax bills. But new research shows that in the real world, the self-employed are willing to pay hundreds of dollars more in exchange for simpler taxes, and that a less complicated tax code would spread the benefits around...
Chris Christie not amused as grinning successor poses with infamous beach photo
Chris Christie not amused as grinning successor poses with infamous beach photo

It was a peaceful, Fourth of July weekend when New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie chose to relax with his family at a state-owned beach house. It was so peaceful, in fact, that the portion of the state beach where he sunbathed was otherwise empty. That's because the beach, along with all other state beaches, was closed to the public amid a statewide...
More Stories