Students aim to end homelessness by UT area

Ending homelessness in Austin; one integral part in making that happen is by tackling mental health. Now it could soon be expanding.

A large portion of the homeless population has migrated to the University of Texas campus and many of them face issues related to mental health. From depression to bi-polar disorder - issues that some students within the UT System would like to address.

There are several factors in getting a person back on their feet. One is making sure they are mentally stable. So how can we get them that help?

"We're trying to implement the system of tele-psychiatry, which is talking to a mental heath professionals and getting tele-psychiatry services through the use of the internet. Whether it's phone calls, Skype calls or video calls," says Kavina Patel, UTSA student, VideoMed.
UTSA undergrads Kavina Patel and Farhan Ahmad are passionate about helping the homeless. This Summer they were involved in a UT System-funded program that promoted student entrepreneurship. That's where they came up with VideoMed.

"The program is really to spur impact through things that they develop. It's to identify needs from the customers and then to roll out and create impact. That's what was so exciting about VideoMed, that there is a great need and UT can address impact throughout many different communities," says Carlos Kemeny, assistant director of UT System's Office of Technology Commercialization.

"In this case, the patient is a homeless person. Seeing whether that has an impact in recuperation and in removing some of the symptoms of mental illness that they face," says Farhan Ahmad, UTSA student, VideoMed.

Austin Travis County Integral Care has been offering similar services to our area's homeless. They would like to collaborate with the students to expand the efforts placed on mental health.

"It's very important for the people we serve to be stable, to be able to make informed choices. At times, it's really beneficial for them to feel connected, to have the ability to regulate their symptoms and learn how to cope with very significant barriers," says Darilynn Cardona-Beiler, associate director, Adult Behavioral Health Services at Austin Travis County Integral Care.

Census data for our area, Point in Time Count, shows in 2015 there are fewer than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness in Austin-Travis County. More than 300 of them face a serious mental illness.

"Schizophrenia, schizo-effective disorder, bi-polar disorder - more of the severe spectrum. Across the homeless population overall, we're encountering that about 30 percent suffer from mental illness and of those, we see more of depression, post traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder, anxiety and things of that nature," says Cardona-Beiler.

What they have also found, is that permanent housing is an intervention to mental health issues.

The good news is that we have already made significant progress on ending homelessness in Austin-Travis County. Over the last five years there has been a 21 percent decrease. In 2011 the number of homeless was nearly 2500 and now we are under 2000.

The UTSA students would like the tele-psychiatry services to be offered at homeless shelters, churches and libraries. The pilot program is expected to take place in Austin and San Antonio in the next two years. If successful, they would like for it to expand. You can email the students if you would like to help: