The State of Local Mental Health and Its Effect on Homelessness
On June 17, 2014, local city and county leaders, health care providers, community volunteers and students met at The United Way of Greater Houston for a panel discussion entitles “The State of Local Mental Health and Its Effect on Homelessness.” Micah, Hirschfield, moderator and TWH board member, opened the panel discussion onto a full house. Panelists included (above, from left) Laurie Glaze, Executive Director of Texas One Voice: A Collaborative for Health and Human Services, Eva Thibadeau-Graczyk, Director of Programs for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, and Marc Eichenbaum, Deputy Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives.
Many who attended that night were donors and volunteers of The Women’s Home wanting to know how to become more informed and involved in the issues facing our clients. Also attending the presentation were students from Rice, Baylor and the University of Houston, passionate about learning to identify solutions to this important social problem. Also present were care providers interested in learning more to assist their clients. In addition, representatives from the county and city agencies were there to support and interact with attendees.
There was a frank discussion of the dismal per capita mental health spending levels in Texas (Texas ranks 49th in the nation in spending, an average of only $39 per citizen), which leaves communities ill-equipped to meet the need for behavioral health services, most especially for those who are homeless. Houston currently has over 1,700 adults waiting for mental health services that simply do not exist. As a result, many of these unstable individuals are seen, at great cost to taxpayers, at the psychiatric hospitals and, unfortunately, the county jail — the state’s largest mental health care provider. This is often called “back and spending”, money that gets spent after lives have spiraled completely out of control.
However, hope was offered in the examination of the Mayor’s initiative to end chronic homelessness. The model being embraced is that of permanent supportive housing, housing that is offered without barriers to those that need it most. The idea is a best practice whose time has come here in Houston. The city, county, housing authority and mayor’s office have exhibited unprecedented cooperation in identifying and placing chronically homeless individuals through a coordinated access program designed by the Coalition For the Homeless. First targeted were veterans and the most visible of homeless in downtown. Already, the rates of homelessness are receding with this concentration of effort.
The Home stays abreast of these trends and works with all of the agencies and offices representated on the panel. Our own Jane Cizik Garden Place is a model of housing and services that truly leads the way in our community to solutions to this multi-layered effort. We were proud to present some of the bigger issues we face in delivering the services so desperately needed in Houston.