The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of individuals who are homeless and have mental illnesses. It is not only the unhealthy conditions on the streets that make the unsheltered homeless “at-risk” to COVID-19; most suffer from underlying, chronic health conditions. An estimated 15-25% of individuals experiencing homelessness throughout Harris County and the greater Houston area suffer from severe mental health issues making it difficult for city, county, and local partners to quickly assist and house them out of harm’s way. Social distancing requirements have also reduced homeless shelter capacity. These extremely acute individuals have a large impact on first responders and hospitals by routinely requiring emergency intervention. These individuals increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure to first responders and the community.
Both the City of Houston and the Harris County have each invested $5 million toward the new COVID-19 Homeless Respite, Rehabilitation, and Re-Entry Center to fill the need for a safe, clean, and secure place of respite and rehabilitation in our community. The new facility will be operated by The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD and will implement a key recommendation of the Harris County Homeless Taskforce. This facility will significantly expand our local continuum of care for this vulnerable population.
Not only will the center provide proper housing, but the facilities will house our cutting-edge services and programs to address the psychological, emotional, occupational, interpersonal, health and other effects to support their ability to function in society. The programs and services will include:
- Hospital to Home: 24 beds available to provide rehabilitation services to people who are homeless and have a serious mental illness. These individuals will receive comprehensive rehabilitation services intended to help them successfully transition to more permanent housing options. Estimated stays of 90-180 days.
- Jail Diversion: 36 beds available for a pre-charge diversion center accepting law enforcement drop offs 24/7. Average stays of 4-10 days.
- Outpatient Competency Restoration: 8 beds available to provide outpatient competency restoration services for 60-120 days.
- Jail Re-Entry: 20 beds available for individuals leaving Harris County jail with no safe place to live. These beds are intended to be short-term in nature and transition quickly as individuals find appropriate living arrangements. Estimated stays of 3-5 days.
- Mental Health Supportive Housing: 24 beds that are not co-located, but are available to provide transitional housing in single room occupancies for people with serious mental illness. Estimated stays of 3-12 months.
- Mental Health Apartment Unit: 26 units on-site with a diversion, rehabilitation, and re-entry rent for people with serious mental illness.
The Ed Emmett Jail Diversion Center, a first-of-its kind program in the State of Texas, will also move to the new expanded facility. This groundbreaking program aims to divert individuals with mental illness from jail to a mental health intervention center for persons who have committed low-level, non-violent offenses. Since launching the program in 2018, the community has witnessed the positive contributions the program can bring. To analyze the program’s effectiveness, third party consultants were hired to conduct an outcome report to measure the program’s impact within the community. It was found that:
- For every $1 spent on diversion, the county avoided spending $5.54 on criminal justice costs.
- A 50% reduction in bookings after participants were diverted.
- Those diverted were 1.4 times less likely to be booked into jail on a new charge than those in a comparison group that were not diverted.
- Those diverted with 5+ bookings were 2.9 times less likely to be booked into jail on a new offense than those in a comparison group that were not diverted.
- Those diverted with no previous bookings were 44.9 times less likely to be booked into jail on a new offense than those in a comparison group that were not diverted.
The new facility will not only provide additional beds for proper housing, but will also offer several psychosocial rehabilitation services, utilizing progressive, evidence-based practices for a more holistic approach to rehabilitation.
Download the program brochure.