AUSTIN, Texas - HOST, a team of paramedics, police officers, mental health specialists, and case managers, has helped more than 100 people experiencing homelessness move out of encampments and into shelters in the last few months.
The Homeless Outreach Street Team, or HOST, is a collaboration between the Austin Police Department, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Integral Care (IC), and the Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC).
HOST services include conducting coordinated assessments for potential housing placement, providing medication and medical treatment, mental health and substance abuse services, employment and legal assistance, and connecting people to transportation.
Officials say HOST has been instrumental in the success of Austin City Council’s Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative.
HEAL is designed to reduce the number of unsheltered individuals by targeting specific encampment sites and providing outreach, relocation to shelter, and rehousing.
Since April 2021, officials say three of the four HEAL priority encampments have closed and about 120 individuals have been moved to a bridge shelter at the City of Austin-owned Southbridge and Northbridge facilities. After arriving at the two city shelters, individuals are connected to a case manager to receive the support they need to apply for, secure, and stabilize in housing.
Officials say the HEAL operation, which is led by the City’s Homeless Strategy Division, has relied heavily on the HOST teams’ expertise and ability to build trust with people living unsheltered and to connect individuals to temporary housing.
"We are doing all that we can to support efforts like HEAL that take a comprehensive approach to addressing a critical, community-wide need," said Assistant Chief Andy Hofmeister, who leads HOST through his role with the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, in a news release. "It is a community-wide challenge right now, as crisis shelter capacity is full."
The HEAL Initiative is also supported by Austin Resource Recovery, Parks and Recreation, and others. Community partners include The Other Ones Foundation, Capital Metro, Family Eldercare, and Integral Care.
Earlier this year, Integral Care, Travis County’s Local Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Authority, added three new positions to support the City’s HEAL initiative.
HOST plays key role in Austin's downtown homelessness response
Beyond supporting the HEAL initiative, officials say HOST continues to play a key role in the city’s homelessness response in the downtown area.
In this fiscal year, officials say the HOST team has served a total of 790 people and provided support more than 2,200 times to individuals experiencing homelessness in the greater downtown and UT campus area.
HOST covers downtown and West Campus, and coordinates with Community Health Paramedics and the Programs for Assistance in the Transition from Homelessness (PATH) outreach team, which serve individuals in the broader Austin-Travis County area. It works to establish trust and build rapport with individuals experiencing homelessness before crises occur or situations escalate.
By intervening early, the team can help individuals avoid costly emergency services such as hospitals and jail and instead work toward longer-term solutions with the ultimate goal of finding permanent housing.
This year, the team has:
- Connected 232 people to medical treatment and helped them avoid a trip to the emergency room
- Worked with 27 people to help them avoid admission to a psychiatric hospital
- Intervened in crisis situations to help 62 people avoid arrest and being transported to jail
- HOST’s work brings significant value to the City’s homelessness response. The average cost of a hospital or psychiatric ER visit is around $1,400. When people are processed into jail, their status in the justice system may limit their options for future employment and housing.
To send a referral to HOST, please call 512-804-3720 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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