Why does Austin need HOST?
Not every person’s journey through homelessness is the same, and neither is the care they need to thrive. For the chronically homeless, years of living without shelter can make the transition into housing more complex. And addressing these challenges in downtown Austin can be further complicated by the dynamic environment of pedestrians, housed neighbors, commuters, tourists and businesses.
HOST takes services directly to people in need, providing care and building relationships to help people experiencing homelessness take steps toward a more stable, housed life. Meeting health and safety needs for unhoused neighbors addresses problems before they become a crisis, contributing to a safer downtown community for everyone.
Learn more about Homelessness in Austin
Creating HOST in Austin
Employing an interdisciplinary outreach team is a relatively new approach for communities addressing homelessness. Austin first explored the idea in 2015 when the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) was looking to reduce crime near the ARCH, both to improve the experience of those receiving services and the businesses located nearby. Sharing this goal, APD began researching how other police departments in the country were engaging with populations experiencing homelessness. APD identified programs in Toronto, Canada and Houston, Texas, where the Houston Police Department operated the Homeless Outreach Team. The HOST Pilot emerged from the research, operating from June 2016 to Sept 2016.
Now a fully realized program, the interdisciplinary team includes:
- 2 APD Crisis Intervention Team Officers
- 1 Austin/Travis County EMS Community Health Paramedic Medic
- 2 Integral Care Behavioral Health Specialists
- 2 Integral Care Licensed Mental Health Clinicians
- 1 Integral Care Peer Support Specialist
- 1 DACC Clinical Social Worker
The HOST Approach
For most of the individuals served by HOST, they have been offered help in the past that didn’t result in staying housed. This can lower their belief that they can be housed while also decreasing trust in institutions. Add in years of trauma and co-existing medical conditions, and the situation can feel pretty hopeless.
That’s why the HOST approach is different. Rather than just making referrals, the HOST team works over time with those experiencing chronic homelessness by:
- Building trust through consistency, creating new possibilities for working with Homeless Service Providers
- Maintaining the agency and dignity of person experiencing homelessness
- Celebrating and encouraging progress, no matter how big or small, as steps in the right direction
- Utilizing the many resources in the HOST Tool belt: Coordinated Assessment, MAP card applications/renewals, access to intensive case management at DACC, ability to coordinate with Street Medicine team at CommUnityCare, ability to connect/reconnect clients to Integral Care treatment teams/intake, more in the works!
After launching in 2017, the HOST team had more than 10,000 visits with people experiencing homelessness through December, 2020. This resulted in nearly 9,000 needs met, including completing coordinated assessments to get in the system for housing, connections to healthcare, getting help with transportation, assistance obtaining identification documents, and more. The help HOST provides informs the development of future outreach strategies, knowing what needs are greatest in the community and what works to address them.
Additionally, HOST’s visits resulted in 917 diversions from Emergency Rooms, jail, and psychiatric hospitals. These diversions do more than prevent an individual from experiencing the trauma and compounding complications of time in institutions. When people experiencing homelessness receive the level of care they need in the field, communities save the cost, administrative burden, and stress on the system that result from the unnecessary use of high-care institutions.