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Seton offers homeless groups space to address trafficking, services

Monday, November 5, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Nonprofits addressing homelessness in Austin will get some long-sought-after help in steering clients through the area’s network of services designed to get them off the streets and into stable housing.

Seton Healthcare Family has announced a new partnership with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) and the SAFE Alliance, offering some of the health care system’s spaces at two facilities to serve as assessment and navigation centers. The goal is to reduce a chronic human trafficking problem in Texas and move more people into needed housing, health care and other services.

The city’s Action Plan to End Homelessness specified that local organizations need a way to improve the intake and assessment process and meet clients’ needs, including a central location staffed or in some way connected to a selection of the groups’ employees.

It is estimated that more than 7,000 people experience some form of homelessness in the greater Austin area each year.

The two undisclosed locations are expected to begin operation next year in a two-year partnership that grew out of a pair of conversations about homelessness and trafficking that local and state leaders were having with executives from Ascension, the St. Louis, Missouri-based health care network that manages Seton.

Geronimo Rodriguez, advocacy officer for Ascension Seton, said Texas’ I-35 corridor and the ease of transport to other major cities across the country make the area a hot spot for more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking annually, with Waco having a similar level of trafficking activity as New York City.

“When you identify a (human trafficking) survivor you need to find a place to assess them and start to get their needs met,” he said. “When we asked the groups targeting homelessness in Austin what their need was, it was an assessment center, and that was our opportunity to help meet an important need. Coordination (of services) is important because you want to have equity for the most vulnerable people and it’s also a place that Integral Care, Central Health and other service providers can get involved.”

Rodriguez said at the end of the two-year agreement it is likely the improvement in providing services to reduce homelessness and trafficking will result in enthusiasm to continue providing navigation and assessment centers.

Ann Howard, executive director of ECHO, said the South Austin location will help speed up the delivery of financial assistance, food, health and other services for at-risk or recently homeless individuals. The belief is that streamlining intake and making a host of services easier to sign up for can shorten a client’s time without stable housing, or even keep a person from becoming homeless in the first place.

“This is the result of a couple years of groups working together to be available in one location where we are screening people and finding ways to get them housed, because once you get someone in housing the behavior that keeps them homeless tends to go away,” she said.

“This doesn’t offer shelter, because it’s some clinic space that’s been made available, but we can use this as a place to speed things up and get people into much-needed housing. Austin’s real challenge is (that) nothing in terms of available services is quite to the scale of where we need it, but if we can get everyone to offer up on the table what they do have, if we align those resources like we think we can do now, we’d see some movement.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen praised Seton’s offering.

“We need a community-wide response to end homelessness and support survivors of human trafficking in Austin,” she said in a statement. “Due to Seton’s contributions of land and existing buildings, The SAFE Alliance and ECHO will be able to pilot and scale innovative delivery models that will help address immediate needs and connect people to services for their long-term stability and success.”

Photo by Ted Eytan made available through a Creative Commons license.

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