Austin tries new homeless health care program as it prepares to enforce camping ban

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As staff work on educating the homeless community about Proposition B, which reinstitutes a camping ban, and identifying locations for sanctioned encampments, they’re also rolling out a new program that focuses on behavioral health.

The program will establish a Health Care for the Homeless Health and Wellness Center. Integral Care’s specialty intensive mental health team is leading services for the initiative.

Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance explained the program during Wednesday evening’s Downtown Commission meeting.

“It provides a direct line to behavioral health care for people who are downtown experiencing homelessness,” he said. 

Brice said the program, which he announced Wednesday, is in partnership with the Alliance, Integral Care, Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC) and the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST). Brice told KXAN Thursday the program had a soft launch in April.

“The genesis of this came out of research that was funded by Downtown Austin Alliance several years ago that really put a thumbprint on the need for increased behavioral health care for people experiencing homelessness,” he said.

Brice said they then asked Integral Care to draft a program model. The first year of the program will cost $520,000, split between the Alliance and the City of Austin. Integral Care’s Terrace at Oak Springs Clinic will serve as the program’s service hub.

“We just really haven’t had enough resources in the community to meet that need,” said Ruth Ahearn, Integral Care’s Practice Administrator of Housing and Health Care for the Homeless Initiatives. 

HOST and DACC can refer people to the program, she said. 

DACC tells KXAN that as of May 13, they have a waitlist of 253 people who are experiencing homelessness and requesting services.

A spokesperson said not all require behavioral services, but DACC has started linking some of them with the new program, which already has 13 enrolled. 

Integral Care’s specialty team will also help participants navigate housing, with the goal of helping 100 to 150 people this year. 

“We want to get people permanently housed. We know, however, that it’s very difficult to achieve that if the person has serious behavioral health needs,” Brice said. 

“We’re talking about mental health, substance use disorders,” Ahearn explained.

Brice said this is a new model they’re piloting downtown for now. He said based on nonprofit ECHO’s Point in Time Counts, a third of unsheltered individuals live downtown.

ECHO Point In Time homeless count from 2019.

“We think this is a program that might prove up a model that could be replicated into a broader geographic area once we’re able to test it,” he said.

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