Supportive housing — low-income housing that offers social services to its residents — is crucial for keeping people off the streets, said Walter Moreau , executive director of Foundation Communities, a nonprofit agency that provides low-cost housing to needy people.Part of the reason for the dearth of supportive housing is a persistent, NIMBY-driven backlash against any new facility aimed at this population - an incredibly short-sighted position considering the lack of housing makes it more likely they'll commit new crimes. Describing opposition to supportive housing for the homeless in Dallas' Lake Highlands neighborhood, the Dallas News reported:
Those services can include on-site programs such as money management classes and social workers to connect people to Social Security, food stamps and other public benefits.
"You need a variety of ways to help people where they're at," Moreau said.
Advocates for homeless people say Austin doesn't have nearly enough supportive housing units.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development , Travis County has 540 permanent supportive housing beds. The Corporation for Supportive Housing recently concluded that Austin needs about 1,900 more such units.
It has been difficult to find neighborhood support for this type of housing, even beyond Lake Highlands and north Oak Cliff. Deep Ellum residents objected to a proposal to build 100 units there. Plans for similar housing have fallen through in South Dallas, the Cedars and at another Lake Highlands site. Meanwhile, several more projects are in the pipeline.Relatedly, see this sadly typical story out of Mesquite of a family struggling with the behavior of a mentally ill teen. He's been in and out of jail and his family is at their wits end, fearing he'll end up dead or in prison. According to the Dallas News:
Advocates for the housing say that resident opposition is making it difficult to achieve the City Council-approved goal of creating 700 units of permanent supportive housing by 2014. Experts say that this type of housing, which includes treatment services, is key to ending chronic homelessness.
The Mesquite couple's ordeal illustrates the complications that can surface for families trying to care for a loved one with serious mental illnesses: There's not enough treatment available, the person with the illness often rejects help, and problems boil to a crisis point – often leading back to shelters or jail.If the public want the City to address homelessness, mental illness and petty crime, they must be willing to provide community-based services in addition to only jails. Supportive housing for the most resource-intensive people - particularly those who are essentially "frequent flyers' at the county jail - is among the most promising approaches toward reducing crime among this group, but those services must actually be physically delivered somewhere.
"The system to help these kids stinks to high heaven because there is none," Susan Koshar said.
Officials who work in the criminal justice system say they see people like Brown all the time. And there aren't enough services to help them, said Ron Stretcher, director of Dallas County's criminal justice department. Texas ranks 48th in the nation in per capita spending on mental health, according to a Mental Health America survey.
"In Texas, we just don't provide for this population," Stretcher said. "There's nothing out there."