AUSTIN, Texas - Austin Police Officer Shelly Borton hits the streets four to six hours a day, connecting with one of Austin's most vulnerable populations.
“Just going out into the community, where we have high populations of homeless people and seeing what their needs are,” Borton said.
The 16-year veteran of the department is a member of HOST, the Homeless Outreach Street Team. Launched in June 2016, the partnership comprises of two law enforcement officers, one paramedic from emergency services and three behavioral health specialists from Integral Care.
"Because of the complexity of the needs that’s not often possible for (the homless) - they either live on the streets, the camp, under bridges and they experience many limitations to come to the organization," said Darilynn Cardona-Beiler, the associate director for Adult Behavior Health Services at Integral Care. “What we have been able to do through this approach is to bring the services directly to them.”
The connection has so far reached almost 1,800 people, 300 of whom have been linked to mental health services, medical providers, and housing programs. Lisa Hoeschler is one of them.
"I would see her and she would just give me just a little bit of incentive not to give up and that it's OK,” Hoeschler said. “That your mental problems are overcomable, that your financial problems are overcomable."
However, not everyone has been so fortunate. The small team and the resources at-hand can only go so far in Downtown Austin and west campus. HOST also attributes limitations to the lack of affordable housing.
"Everybody wants housing, and we do what we can to help that person," Borton said.
The pilot program is currently funded until September 31, but partners say they remain optimistic that it will continue.
Homeless Outreach Street Team Impact:
1,749 people connected to support services -
Connected to housing services: 104
Connected to substance use treatment: 35
Connected to health care: 121
Connected to mental health care: 115
Advocates for the program say its presence keeps people out of hospitals and jail.
Diverted people from emergency rooms: 31
Diverted people from jail: 20
Diverted people from psychiatric hospitals: 17
Source: Integral Care