Friday, April 23, 2021

Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) Continue Helping Those Experiencing Homelessness


Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) Continues Helping Those Experiencing Homelessness

According to a recent needs assessment shared with the Austin City Council, the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), which is dedicated to providing proactive outreach and frontline assistance to people experiencing homelessness, served 913 individuals in 2020.  HOST modified program approaches to incorporate safety precautions for individuals served and staff to ensure that these critical, in-person services could continue despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. 

HOST is a collaborative among the Austin Police Department, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Integral Care (IC) and the Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC), who together address a wide range of needs for individuals experiencing homelessness. Individuals receive assistance for immediate or chronic medical issues, accessing medication needs and connecting to mental health and other clinical services. 

Additionally, each member of HOST builds relationships with members of the homeless community, which helps build trust in engaging in services and enables compassionate de-escalation of situations when needed.  These efforts aim to meet the needs of individuals served before issues escalate that could result in emergency medical care, psychiatric hospitalization, or arrest.

In 2020 alone, HOST had 2,854 instances of providing services such as conducting Coordinated Assessments, providing linkages to health and social services, meeting basic needs, and providing assistance with transportation.  Additionally, HOST services in 2020 resulted in 294 diversions from public safety response systems including hospital emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, and jail.  Since HOST launched in October 2016, the program has had 11,027 instances of providing services in the community and has helped facilitate 470 diversions from emergency rooms, 156 diversions from psychiatric hospital admissions and 187 diversions from jail. 

The financial and other tangible benefits of this effort are significant for the community and the individuals served by HOST.  The average cost of a hospital or psychiatric ER visit is around $1,400.  Incarceration has financial implications for the public and the individuals engaged in the criminal justice system, and can impact future employment and housing opportunities.  By intervening early, HOST can divert individuals away from costly emergency services such as hospitals and jail, and instead work towards longer term solutions with a goal of ultimately ending their experience with homelessness.

DACC Intensive Case Managers provide ongoing support after initial engagement to help connect individuals to housing and assist with many of their needs, such as obtaining identification documents, signing up for medical benefits, and accessing Social Security Disability Insurance and Social Security Income benefits. A multitude of IC programs provide ongoing mental health services for individuals engaged, and HOST members also help connect homeless individuals to housing through the available programs in Austin's homelessness services continuum.

"As City and community efforts continue to end homelessness in our community, HOST and DACC staff remain dedicated to serving our neighbors experiencing homelessness with compassion and respect, while connecting individuals to person-centered services that meet their needs," said Peter Valdez, Director of DACC.