Creating an impACT: Providing the Right Support Makes All the Difference

At Caritas of Austin, we believe that creating well-being begins with a home. With individualized services and support, people who experienced homelessness begin to build stability and reach their potential.

Caritas’ ImpACT program was created for people who have the highest needs and therefore need deeply supportive services. Typically, clients in this program have been the highest utilizers of our city’s emergency resources (such as jail, the emergency room and mental health facilities).

“Our program is like an end-catch for clients who’ve been in the system for years and have been unable to stabilize,” explains Shawna Arnesen, ImpACT Program Manager. “We stick with people through the hard times. We believe that they’re able to make the changes they need to progress, and we believe in our own ability to provide the right level of support.”

Caritas is There Through the Hard Times

Now 69, Patricia was attending nursing school when she began to struggle with her mental health and had to drop out of college. By the time she enrolled with Caritas, she had been living on the street for a decade with severe unmanaged diabetes. She averaged 40 ambulance runs per month and had been arrested over 100 times on charges of criminal trespassing for sleeping in doorways and in parks.

In the nearly two years Patricia has been in our ImpACT program, her diabetes is under control, her health is stabilized and, thanks to great success with an opioid treatment called Suboxone, she just celebrated one year of sobriety. Since February 2020, three months after enrollment in our program, she has only used EMS three times.

“I was going to kill myself if I didn’t get off the streets,” says Patricia. “But Caritas stuck with me. The people that work here are very good, caring, loving people.”

Billy is 56 years old but the trauma caused by abuse as a child has had a life-long effect. He began using drugs at a young age and lived on the streets for most of his adult life, with stints in shelters, rehab and jail. Always a hard worker, the physical labor took an extreme toll on Billy’s body as the years went by and he suffered from chronic pain.

“Eight-hour jobs and sleeping on the streets at night is horrible,” he remembers. “It’s hard to live in this world if you don’t have a place to stay.”

The Healing Power of impACT

“When he first completed the assessment (to get housing), Billy was considered functional enough that he didn’t get the help he needed — and then he continued to deteriorate,” says Arnesen.

Two years later he was referred to Caritas, and the ImpACT team worked quickly to get him into housing and connected to primary and mental health care providers. Billy had been living with unmanaged diabetes, sleep apnea and peripheral neuropathy in his feet. He was also diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder.

These long-unaddressed medical needs are stabilized now that he’s on the correct medication, attending weekly physical therapy and going to regular doctor’s appointments. Caseworker Melissa Lebet was also able to help Billy obtain a permanent housing voucher and claim social security benefits.

“She treats me like a human being and always asks me if I’m alright,” says Billy. “(Caritas) makes me want to live, because I didn’t want to live before.”

Building Trust Through Unwavering Support

“The most challenging piece is that often people have deteriorated and their situation has become so critical once they get to us,” says Arnesen “They have cycled through the system for so long that, by the time we’re meeting with them for the first time, they don’t have faith that we’re going to be able to help them. It’s a matter of building trust and getting them to believe it’s going to be different this time. Once they see we really do have an apartment for them and we really are going to show up three times a week, that working relationship gets so much better.”

Caritas clients like Billy and Patricia are living and thriving throughout the Austin community thanks to donors like you!