In September 2018, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin conducted an online housing voucher lottery titled "Eight Days of Section 8". At that time participants seeking housing could go online to enter basic information entering the lottery in hopes of being chosen for a housing voucher through the Housing Authority. In one such instance involving a Client of the areas Mental Health Authority Integral Care, in February of this year the prospect of being chosen for a Section 8 voucher through the online process and seeking refuge in housing became in the words of that Client "A Living Nightmare".
Integral Care is a pseudo-culture mental health agency receiving funding from federal, State, and local governments operating as the local mental health authority in Austin/Travis County Texas. The agency is reported to operate far removed from the Texas administrative Code and the State of Texas Health and Human Services licensing Board’s regulations based on the overwhelming amount of complaints filed with the State of Texas throughout the years regarding the agency’s performance and conduct. The free reign of the homeless mental health crisis in Austin Texas is largely attributed to mismanaged services and the abandonment of fiduciary duty in part by (IC) Louise Lynch who serves as the (IC) Provider Network Authority Officer and (IC) CEO David Evans.
In February 2019 after knowledge was made to Integral Care (IC) about the Client, who has been with the agency for ten years and who was trying to recovering from being homeless and required the assistance of the agency is when things began to go sour. It all started when the Client’s Recovery Specialist (Case Manager), Rachel Garcia, making and then missing weekly appointments four weeks straight. After one month of Garcia’s desertion and the Client physically receiving the housing voucher from the City’s Housing Authority, the Client contacted (IC) Ombudsman Phyllis Wolf, LCP with concerns of the agency’s services abandonment. The Client was directed to (IC) Recovery Specialist Supervisor Ben Johnson, LCSW. Eventually the Client was connected to Friends University [of Wichita, KS] Family Therapist graduate Anna-Ruth Lewis, QMHP in mid-March 2019 in addition to (IC) Housing Specialist Zareena Aziz and Landlord Outreach Specialist Nathalie Ellis who is Aziz’s supervisor.
After an individual receives a housing voucher from the Housing Authority, he/she has a predetermined time span between 60 to 90 days in which to find housing. Following that the voucher becomes inactive and the individual is no longer eligible to use that particular voucher requiring the individual to re-apply for the already scarce housing assistance. In most homeless cases, having a Housing Voucher is the absolute conduit between being homeless and obtaining housing. The Ending Community Homeless Coalition is impotent with these matters as they have managed to "Corporatize Homelessness" creating funding commodities out of individuals in conjunction with adverse bureaucracy by utilizing the very flawed and grievous Coordinated Assessment. So the critical and delegate support/approach from Housing Specialist and Landlord Outreach Specialist is detrimental in Austin’s shortage of affordable housing.
In the beginning of March 2019 the Client was contacted by (IC) Housing Specialist Zareena Aziz to meet in the efforts of collecting voucher information and possible apartment location preferences for the Client. Shortly after the meeting between the Client and Aziz, the Client was approved for residency by a south Austin apartment complex. In mid-March is when the Client became connected to (IC) Recovery Specialist Anna Ruth-Lewis. For the few times that they met for appointments, Ruth-Lewis and the Client began to vaguely work on a treatment plan that was to coincide with the Client getting into housing. According to the Client those meeting appointments with Ruth –Lewis served as no empathetic or supportive measures in regards to the Client being in crisis and the extremely prolonged path to housing. Once again, after a few meetings, Ruth-Lewis appeared to not be fully committed with regards to the Client’s supportive services. While the (IC) Housing Specialist commenced to drag out housing placement for months, to include 5 inspections to the same South Austin apartment location which all failed, and after the Client requested the assistance from Ruth-Lewis in filing a "Fair Housing Complaint" things began to break down. After the Clients repeated request to Aziz in relationship to if there was a "Plan B" for housing to which no response was offered, Housing Specialist Zareena Aziz duties were turned over to (IC) Housing Practice Manager Kali Gossett, LPC/LCDC. In further interminable conditions with housing placement, in addition to the Client requesting Ruth-Lewis be removed as Recovery Specialist from the Client’s support team, (IC) Ombudsman Phyllis Wolf, LCP agreed to file a complaint on behalf of the Client with the State’s Family Protective Service in regards to both (IC) Recovery Specialist Supervisor Ben Johnson, LCSW and Family Therapist graduate Anna Ruth-Lewis, QMHP committing fraud and exploitation being that they enjoyed personal gain as the support team for the Client while the Client remained cemented in crisis while under their care. In an effort to undermined Integral Care’s responsibility, Darilynn Cardon-Beiler – LMSW, MSSA (IC) Associate Director for Adult Behavior Health Services and Chair of the Downtown Community Court Advisory Board expressed to the Client that Integral Care wasn’t responsible for "those kinds of vouchers" referencing the Client’s voucher in which Integral Care committed to assist and billed on behalf of the Client for the work performed by Integral Care staff. Cardon-Beiler mostly asserted that Integral Care WILL GET PAID but as a Mental Health Professional supportive team, Integral Care really isn’t concerned about the Client.
The City’s Housing Inspector asserted that his involvement with the Client’s matter is the most drawn-out situation that he had ever encountered. Finally in July of 2019, after a long and bitter struggle, the Client moved in to an apartment. "I was a sitting member of Integral Care’s Consumer Council who resigned because of this absolute abuse and chaos. In light of my own experiences, I have great concern for the lower-functioning individuals in Austin’s community to which providers like Integral Care’s conduct has the ability to sabotage both mental health recovery and housing placement. Fortunately after the agony I have endured with getting into housing, I can use my voice to educate our community and hopefully have a positive impact for those mental health Clients in the Austin area who, because they don’t know any better and are subject to the abuse of power by agencies, and I can contribute to the remedy of Austin’s homelessness crisis and mental health crisis.", the Client said.
In reflecting on months of communications, including emails between the Client and multiple agency employees to encompass the agency’s Ombudsman and CEO, the Integral Care Client believes that the occurrence was no accident, mishap or series of unfortunate events. The Client further believes that there are indication markers representing deliberate knowledge and execution of an ulterior arrangement. At the least, job security.
Solving Austin’s Homeless problem revolves around housing people. When homeless service providers, mental health service providers and affordable housing providers don’t follow the methodology regarding ethics, compliance, and social responsibility it is as if individuals were never housed at all. A revolving door from services to housing with no material benefits except to the pockets of providers. This is where the current social dilemmas begins. It’s labeled as exploitation.
Resulting from inaction by Austin’s community in addition to lack of appropriate oversight by the city up till now, many homeless elements have become unfavorable to some residents and businesses. In truth, Martin v. City of Boise in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals established that Austin’s "No sit no lie" and other ordinances that are homeless specific is forthright unconstitutional. Earlier this year homeless advocate Julian Reyes (a.k.a . Lizard King) issued a formal "Cease and Desist" to the City of Austin, Austin’s Municipal Court, and the Downtown Austin Community Court making a lawsuit against the City inevitable if the ordinances that are homeless specific were not repealed. In addition, Austin missed the boat last fall when it failed to rally behind the homeless advocacy organization Global Human Commodities Exchange’s [GHCE] efforts for Homeless Services Reform. In the fall of 2018 GHCE canvased Austin’s downtown area to gather support for the reform. At that time an injunction had be filed in Travis County District Court to block the City of Austin from awarding the City’s Homeless Shelter contractor Front Steps till a further review of the Shelter operations could be performed. At that time those issues appeared to not be anyone’s problem until now that this issue has landed into our backyards. Thus now there will be a new shelter at Ben White Boulevard and Bannister Lane to include additional shelters in each council district. The City of Austin has since performed an Audit of Austin’s homeless services in February 2019 finding that these homeless services operate far below the funding expectation which each tax-payer such demand.
Beyond being homeless there is obtaining and retaining housing. Affordable housing organizations like Foundation Communities make this extremely difficult by institutionalizing and politicizing their housing structure. Like other homeless issues, up till now few became involved in the intervention of rogue service providers creating crippling standards, overbearing housing oversight, negligence, and internal political mechanisms in place to cycle individual in and out of housing. Some of the mechanisms include affordable housing such as Foundation Communities include singling out specific individuals for housing in gaining additional subsidies in tax relief based on renter’s particular qualifications. These subsidies are gained by a housing provider in addition to the amount covered by the housing voucher and the out of pocket costs to the individual who is renting. The down side to this surfaces when those subsidies end and the housing providers generates frivolous claims to evict someone whom the provider has no further use for in regards to double dipping the system. It has reached a point in most cases to where if a particular housing provider is identified with in these frivolous eviction claims, the housing provider’s claims against such renters are completely discounted moving forward in the renters attempt in finding housing in the future. In some cases the claims are not recognized though the potential damage to a renter’s ability to obtain housing in the future remains a reality. Is this an affordable housing model that exemplifies ethics, compliance, and social responsibility or does it continue to further exacerbate homeless issues? Austin’s community could greatly benefit from closer involvement in these issues.