Austin’s Innovative Solution to Homelessness

Earlier this month, representatives from Caritas of Austin, AIDS Services of Austin, Meals on Wheels Central Texas, City of Austin, and Applied Materials spoke during a panel discussion about Austin’s innovative approach to ending homelessness. The Best Single Source Plus Program, of which Caritas is the lead and fiscal agent, has been our community’s front line of defense for families and individuals who are facing or experiencing homelessness – yet many of our city’s residents have never heard of it.

By partnering together, the twelve agencies of BSS Plus are able to ensure that our community’s resources are used with the greatest possible effect for the people we serve.

Stepping up to the challenge

In the years before BSS Plus, Austin neighbors who needed support with basic needs such as housing, food, and medical assistance often had to contact multiple agencies and social workers around town to find the help they needed. This took a lot of time. People often found themselves unable to access necessary community resources, or receiving duplicate services from more than one organization.

To address this problem, service providers saw an opportunity for building a coalition that would change how we end homelessness for Austin neighbors. A centralized funding and services model was tested, and the benefits were clear: rather than applying for services at multiple agencies, clients enroll once to access services. They are also connected with a case manager who understands their unique needs and is equipped to support them.

The BSS Plus recipe for success

The data on this cooperative approach is encouraging: over 94% of clients served through BSS Plus over a two year period do not return to homelessness. We know that three key factors make this possible.

Flexible monetary resources: The flexibility of BSS Plus funding enables case managers to support their clients in accessing resources quickly when a crisis occurs – before it causes them to lose housing. Public dollars from City of Austin and a private grant from Applied Materials fund the program.

Highly skilled social work professionals: Client-centered case managers work closely with individuals and families to help them remain stably housed and work towards goals that build long-term well-being. We know that personalized services are the best way to meet the individual’s needs and end their homelessness.

Collaboration: It is more efficient for people seeking services to be able to access them all in one place, and through a single case manager. Recent data indicates that the BSS Plus program saves the city about $82 million a year, compared to national average costs to serve a comparable population.

Where we go from here

From the beginning, the coalition has recognized that adapting to our community’s changing needs is essential. BSS Plus was just getting started as a formal collaboration in 2005 – the same year that Hurricane Katrina displaced more than a million people living in New Orleans. It was a moment of truth for BSS Plus – and our community as a whole – as we were put to the task of rehousing our new neighbors.

The devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis once again led to changing needs in our community. Federal stimulus funding gave BSS Plus the opportunity to adapt our model around rapid rehousing for individuals and families facing housing instability. Rapid rehousing remains a priority of the BSS Plus program today as Austin’s growth puts pressure on people who do not have enough income to meet their basic needs.

It is as important as ever that we continue to be responsive and collaborative in solving homelessness – and that adequate funding is available. The need for services is higher than the resources available, and our next challenge as a community is to scale those resources up.

Visit the Best Single Source Plus website to learn more about each of the collaborative’s partners and their work in the community. You can also watch a recording of our recent Let’s Talk About panel discussion on Best Single Source Plus on our Faceboook page.