New integrated, outpatient program created to combat mental illness, homelessness

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

To help break the cycle of mental illness, addiction and homelessness, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has launched a new integrated, trauma-informed behavioral health program for treatment and recovery support.

The UTHealth Homeless Outpatient Mental Health Expansion Services Program is funded with a $2.5 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Jane E. Hamilton, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, will lead the program, which reaches out to individuals ages 18 and older with serious mental illness who are experiencing homelessness.

During the five-year program, 500 individuals will be served. The goals are to promote long-term mental health recovery, reduce substance use and ensure access to primary care, sources of income and permanent supportive housing.

“Homelessness is a significant social determinant of health,” Hamilton said. “Individuals with serious mental illness who are experiencing homelessness are at risk for worse health outcomes compared to the general population. In addition to providing behavioral health treatment, the program addresses social determinants of health to improve health outcomes for some of Houston’s most vulnerable residents.”

The program includes outpatient behavioral health treatment; primary medical care and care coordination by a community health worker; case management; links to sources of income; housing assessments and navigation through Housing and Urban Development’s Coordinated Access at The Beacon; and housing case management for individuals placed in permanent supportive housing.

Participants in the program will be recruited through the UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center (HCPC); The Beacon, homeless shelters and other community-based locations; and street outreach. UTHealth HCPC treatment teams will identify patients experiencing homelessness and unit social workers will refer patients to the program. To develop a referral network, information about services and enrollment criteria will be disseminated to the 107 homelessness assistance programs affiliated with The Way Home of the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care.

The integrated team on the project includes Angela Heads, Ph.D., assistant professor, as project evaluator; Melissa Allen, D.O., associate professor and medical director of the UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center, as medical director; and Elmer Bernstam, M.D., M.S.E., professor of internal medicine and associate dean of research at UTHealth School of Bioinformatics, who will oversee medical care integration and technology.

Community partners include UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center, The Beacon at Christ Church Cathedral; Healthcare for the Homeless – Houston; and David Buck, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean of community health and founder and president of the Patient Care Intervention Center at the University of Houston College of Medicine.

 
  • : The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)