Solution to Austin's growing homeless population

Austin's homeless population continues to grow. FOX 7 spoke with a local agency that says affordable housing is the solution to supporting these individuals and getting them back on their feet.

In the past 10 years, lack of affordable housing combined with inadequate funding of mental health services has left more and more on the streets.

In downtown Austin, coming across a homeless person on every street corner is not uncommon.

"Especially at night, you see them follow people around a lot," says Jordan Harris, works in downtown Austin.

Jordan Harris works for a valet company on 7th and Brazos. He says he has concerns for his own safety and the people he serves.

"They're pretty aggressive. Even if you don't have anything, they kind of come off rude sometimes. You just have to watch out for them," says Harris.

Preliminary results for the 2016 annual point-in-time count show that around 2,200 people are living on Austin's streets or in shelters. That is a 20 percent increase over last year.

Homeless service providers believe there are actually about 7,000 homeless individuals in our community.

"Homeless individuals are not dangerous, they're people like you and I. We need to humanize it. They're our sisters, our brothers, our moms, our dads and they need support," says Darilynn Cardona-Beiler, associate director of adult behavioral health services, Austin Travis County Integral Care.

Of those who are chronically homeless, 60 percent suffer from mental illness, substance use issues or physical disabilities.

Most of them are actually from Central Texas.

"Prohibiting panhandling and regulations that incarcerate and criminalizes homelessness is not the answer," says Cardona-Beiler.

Instead, she says the answer is housing. For many years, Integral Care has offered permanent supportive housing services throughout Austin.

Now they are developing a 40,000 square foot facility that will not only add 50 apartments, but also provide resources like mental health and primary care services, job training and a retail site for supported employment.

"We have seen great improvement. They are stable, they are doing well. They are reconnected with family, they are able to engage back in employment and across the community we have been able to house over 1,000 individuals last year alone," says Cardona-Beiler.

Harris hopes this new housing development will be on the outskirts of Austin, along with a possible relocation of the ARCH.

"The homeless shelters are so close to downtown. A lot of people come downtown, so I'm sure they're like, 'there are a lot of people, so I'm gonna go harass them.' Maybe that would be a good idea to move it," says Harris.

The Housing First apartment complex is expected to open in 2017. Integral Care says the cost savings to our community could equal $1 million annually.

Research shows that every person placed in long-term housing saves the public a minimum of $20 thousand a year. The reason? Reductions in shelter usage, hospital stays, emergency room visits and nights in jail.

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