Gaps in Austin's mental health services among root causes of homelessness, experts say

Austin Mayor Steve Adler made a guest appearance at Leadership Austin's Sept. 11 homelessness discussion with, Foundation Communities board member Dalton Duffie (from left), Integral Care's Darilynn Cardona-Belier, Caritas Austin Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn and Ernesto Rodriguez, Austin-Travis County's EMS chief.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler made a guest appearance at Leadership Austin's Sept. 11 homelessness discussion with, Foundation Communities board member Dalton Duffie (from left), Integral Care's Darilynn Cardona-Belier, Caritas Austin Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn and Ernesto Rodriguez, Austin-Travis County's EMS chief.

Following the death of his daughter, Dalton Duffie said he lost perspective on life and turned toward drugs. Years of deepening addiction culminated with him ending up on the streets, caring less, he said, about whether he would live to the next day and more about whether he could get high in the next moment.

Today, Duffie is a resident of and on the board of directors at Foundation Communities, a local nonprofit focused on building and providing deeply affordable housing to the community’s most vulnerable residents. Duffie’s work focuses on housing, more of which, leaders have said, is the key to the city’s homelessness challenge; however, Duffie said had mental health and substance abuse services been more accessible, he likely would have spent less time suffering on the streets.

“At some point, all substance abuse users think about treatment, but you can’t get to it if you have to pay thousands of dollars for it,” said Duffie, who got clean over the course of more than two years with a limited program at the Salvation Army. “All of the people I knew who were substance abusers had no way to pay for treatment. If there were more [programs like the Salvation Army’s], more people would use them.”

On Sept. 11, Duffie joined Darilynn Cardona-Belier, a mental health specialist with Travis County Integral Care; Caritas Austin Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn; and Ernesto Rodriguez, Austin-Travis County EMS chief, in front of a sold-out crowd for Leadership Austin’s discussion on homelessness as part of the nonprofit’s Engage Breakfast Series. Austin’s homelessness challenges have taken the spotlight in recent months, and Erin Osenbaugh, a manager with Leadership Austin, said it was only the second time they had ever sold out an event.

The early morning discussion at the Austin Central Library touched on a range of topics related to local homelessness challenges; however, when asked to touch on where the gaps were in the community’s response to the problem, the expert panel agreed the gaps were in mental health and substance abuse services.

“Access to mental health and substance abuse treatment should be as easy, [as] without barriers, as it is for someone to obtain drugs,” said Cardona-Belier, who, with Integral Care, focuses most of her time and resources on responding to the behavioral and mental health needs of the county’s homeless and other vulnerable populations. “That system in our community does not exist.”

Cardona-Belier said Integral Care has increased its staff from five to 100 over the last five years to address the surge in the indigent population’s mental health needs throughout the county. However, she said, the staff is still overwhelmed by the growing demand. Since 2014, Integral Care’s client base has jumped by 50%.

“There isn’t enough mental health care available,” Rodriguez said. “Most [homeless] individuals have chronic illnesses, addiction and mental health issues. When you look at all those things combined, it becomes very difficult to help someone through their circumstances.”

Cardona-Belier said the city needs to approach mental health with the same gusto it uses to address housing shortages. Duffie said all levels of the community need to make mental health care a priority again.

“I just don’t know what has happened to our nation that we have turned so many mentally ill people out and put them out on the street,” Duffie said. “There are people out there who don’t know what their names are. Those people have no way of making it, day to day, and we leave them out there on the street. People with mental health issues cannot fend for themselves. Once you start going down that dark hole, there is almost no way to pull yourself back out.”
SHARE THIS STORY


MOST RECENT

Delia Garza speaks to her constituents at a town hall meeting in 2017.
Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza says she will not seek re-election as Travis County attorney rumors heat up

Austin's mayor pro tem will not seek reelection to her Southeast Austin district seat in 2020.

Deece Eckstein at the Nov. 12 Travis County Commissioners Court meeting
Travis County intergovernmental relations officer announces retirement, triggers "aggressive" hiring schedule

Deece Eckstein, Travis County's inaugural intergovernmental relations officer, will retire at the end of the year.

Austin City Council members answer questions at a town hall on homelessness
Austin no longer pursuing homeless shelter off Ben White with pivot to hotel purchase

Austin will no longer pursue the controversial purchase of a South Austin tract to use for a new homeless shelter.

Austin City Council will consider purchasing and renovating a motel property along I-35 in South Austin to provide shelter for the city's homeless individuals. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
City may buy Rodeway Inn in South Austin, renovate property to house homeless

The city is considering adding $8 million to its fiscal year 2019-20 budget to accommodate the purchase.

A photo of a stretch of East Slaughter Lane with yellow delineators.
Austin Transportation Department installs safety upgrades to 500 block of East Slaughter Lane

The Austin Transportation Department closed the median break between 515 and 516 E. Slaughter Lane.

Cooper's Sandwiches now open in Southwest Austin

Cooper's Sandwiches has opened on Southwest Parkway.

Four-story office building added as construction begins on Plano’s Mustang Square mixed-use project

A new four-story office building will headline a major mixed-use development in Plano, developers announced Oct. 2 as crews began work on the Mustang Square project.

The ATX Helps coalition launched with a press conference on Nov. 7.
A $14 million campaign and 300-bed shelter: Austin’s private sector leads new coalition to address homelessness

A coaltiion of private sector, non-profit and faith-based groups has formed to address Austin's homelessness crisis.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott announces plan for state-sanctioned homeless encampment off US 183 near Montopolis

John Wittman, Abbott's press secretary, said the land is as close to downtown as the state can provide.

Pease Elementary School
From Pease to boundaries, Austin ISD trustees discuss School Changes Version 2

Austin ISD trustees discussed closing of Pease, Metz, Brooke and Sims elementary schools, preserving district history and lessons learned from the School Changes process.

Dana DeBeauvoir at a press conference.
‘We cannot exist like this in a primary election': Travis County clerk says voter behavior, state law need to change ahead of 2020

Travis County's 2019 election results were not final until 3:40 a.m. the next morning due to a perfect storm of issues that the clerk said needs to be addressed before the 2020 election.

CommUnityCare sign
CommUnityCare purchases 5 Carousel Pediatrics locations in Central Texas

CommUnityCare Health Centers acquires Carousel Pediatrics

Back to top