FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
AUSTIN, Texas (Dec. 14, 2020) — Travis County Commissioners voted last week to approve an agreement with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) to give justice system employees access to the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This notable agreement will help in our community’s efforts to prevent people being released from jail into unsheltered homelessness.
HMIS is a HUD-required database used to record and track client-level information on the characteristics and service needs of people experiencing homelessness. Administered in Austin/Travis County by ECHO, this database ties together homeless service providers within a community to help create a coordinated and effective housing and service delivery system.
Providing licenses to use HMIS will allow Travis County Sheriff’s Office employees to understand the housing needs and current program participation of people experiencing homelessness who are entering or exiting the jail.
“Until now, we’ve been operating as two completely separate systems when there’s so much overlap,” said Kaleigh Phelan, ECHO’s Criminal Justice System Liaison. “Too many people who need services get lost in the justice system and, as a result, lose access to those services. Our neighbors experiencing homelessness lose out on housing opportunities when they go to jail, and this agreement will help us keep folks engaged in programs that provide lasting solutions to homelessness.”
“Now is the time to increase partnerships with our community leaders to make sure people who have made mistakes are not lost in the cracks and end up caught in a revolving door of homelessness,” said Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion. “Our vote to approve the agreement between the criminal justice system and ECHO allows for more communication and collaboration between the people who are on the front lines interacting with community members experiencing homelessness.”
Justice system involvement presents a significant barrier for people trying to access housing in Austin/Travis County. Black/African American Austinites are disproportionately impacted by these barriers, representing about 1 in 4 people arrested in Travis County compared to less than 1 in 10 in the overall population. Black/African American Austinites are also significantly overrepresented in the population of people experiencing homelessness, accounting for 1 in 3 people counted during the 2020 Point in Time count.
“This kind of public-private partnership is needed to address longstanding structural racism embedded in the criminal justice system — as well as agencies tasked with ending homelessness. We all must take these steps together to restore justice and equality to systems that too often have failed African Americans and other People of Color experiencing homelessness,” said Alberta Phillips, chair of the ECHO Board. “This approach helps shift the focus to those who have been overlooked or neglected for housing, employment and other services. What we’re saying to people with this partnership is that, ‘We see you and will serve you.’”
“I am proud to support the use of the Homeless Management Information System in our county,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. “This is an important first step in stopping the revolving door in our criminal justice system for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. We need to create more housing options for people so that they have somewhere to go when they’re released from jail.”
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