City Council to vote on funding for Homeless Outreach Street Team


Highlights

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

San Marcos City Council votes to support legal challenge to SB 4
San Marcos City Council votes to support legal challenge to SB 4

The San Marcos City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to file an amicus brief in opposition to Senate Bill 4, the ban on so-called sanctuary cities. The vote Tuesday during a specially called meeting came comes after the council last week voted not to join the cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in their lawsuit against...
Protesters demand removal of NYC statue hailing doctor who experimented on slave women
Protesters demand removal of NYC statue hailing doctor who experimented on slave women

NEW YORK — When Sharon Thompson was a girl, she used to get a bad feeling when she walked by an imposing statue of a man on the edge of Central Park near East Harlem.          On Thursday, Thompson learned the story behind the statue when a local news station produced a piece on it...
START program aims to keep kids with mom
START program aims to keep kids with mom

After Raven Mosser gave birth six years ago, she woke up to a social worker in her hospital room. Her newborn son had been born exposed to opioids — drugs she had been abusing for years. If she didn't get clean, she was at risk of losing him. Mosser, 26, is one face of the nation's opioid crisis. But the epidemic is also touching a much younger...
Unfilled Pentagon jobs worry government services firms
Unfilled Pentagon jobs worry government services firms

Top executives at four of the nation's biggest government services firms have publicly griped in calls with investors about the slow pace at which key federal leadership positions are being filled, saying the vacancies are causing a slowdown in the pace of contract awards and making it difficult to plan for the future. They alternately blamed the White...
Behind a internment camp's barbed wire, two Scouts forged a bond
Behind a internment camp's barbed wire, two Scouts forged a bond

When they are together, it's not hard to see the Boy Scouts they were when they met seven decades ago, in the barbed-wire Japanese internment camp that sprawled over desolate fields. One was imprisoned here; one belonged to the only troop that agreed to a jamboree on the inside. Norman Mineta went on to become a mayor, a Democratic congressman and...
More Stories