KCBD Special Report: Living Homeless In Lubbock

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The homeless population is growing in the city of Lubbock.

According to the South Plains Homeless Consortium, in 2016, 425 homeless people were counted, 74 more people than the year before.

But who's working to bring those numbers down, and find ways for Lubbock's homeless to help themselves?

In 2016, there were 97 chronically homeless people in Lubbock. According to the Lubbock Police Department, the annual taxpayer cost is about $40,000 a year for each chronically homeless person, which adds up to $3,880,000 taxpayer dollars a year.

The department says those costs include emergency room services, police, court, jail, fire and ambulance, a number that adds up to nearly $4 million a year.

But there is a three-man team here in Lubbock, working to house those without a home, something they say can save taxpayer dollars. KCBD spoke to Lubbock City Manager Jarrett Atkinson about how much help, if any, this trio should receive from the city.

"There probably has definitely been an up-tick in the number of homeless that we're seeing," Atkinson said.

Atkinson is the former city manager of Amarillo, so finding ways to reduce the homeless population is nothing new.

"Certainly in Amarillo, there was a homeless problem there as well. Pretty parallel situations, though. A lot of the support services were centered around the downtown area," Atkinson said.

Here in the Hub City, those services include the Salvation Army and Grace Campus, but those are not long-term facilities.

Atkinson said Lubbock also has one service that sets it apart from other cities.

"The Homeless Outreach Team from the Police Department."

The H.O.T. team, which went into effect on Feb. 20, 2016, is made up of three officers: Sergeant Steve Bergen, Corporal Antonio Chacon and Corporal Korie Archambault.

"I didn't realize the population was as big as it is, until I was on the H.O.T team," Archambault said.

Archambaualt says working with the homeless has changed the way he perceives those living on the streets.

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that the homeless want to be homeless. I believe a majority of them, through my time talking to them, a majority of them have mental health issues. Some have addiction health issues and some have both."

He says a major problem with the homeless is actually how giving the community of Lubbock is.

"Here in Lubbock, the community wants to help so much that they're violating city policy, or city codes and preparing food. The city has to come around and stop them, because there's health code violations," Archambault said.

However, he says the problem extends beyond food.

"The community thinks they need it, so they drop it off, the shopping carts full of clothes and they bring 'em here and they maybe hang out here for a couple of days, and they leave everything and they go somewhere else."

But what is the solution to this growing problem now piling up on city and privately-owned land?

"The most effective things are always going to be some combination of those support agencies the faith-based organizations, the social service groups, and the city helping where it's important for us to help," Atkinson said.

Archambault says there's a program that Lubbock desperately needs to get more people off the streets.

"I think we need a detox facility in Lubbock, which we don't have. We used to have one through managed care but the funding got cut and they got rid of the detox," Archambault said.

"In terms of stepping into the shoes of what maybe has been historically provided by a state agency, that's not something we're able to do right now," Atkinson said.

Archambault says the comprehensive church programs also need to grow.

"Carpenter's Church has started housing first. They have these houses that were donated by the Talkington Foundation. They can put a homeless person in those houses and wrap the services around them: the medication, their doctors, counseling, all that kind of stuff, wrap it around them and it only costs around 11 to $13,000 a year."

LPD says the Homeless Outreach Team has housed 29 chronically homeless people, saving taxpayers $1,160,000, in the year since it was created.

"To me, having more of our human capital, more of our officers, that are able over time as we build the force, to dedicate themselves to that, maybe each year that number gets a little bigger, and we're able to get them out of that cycle," Atkinson said.

Archambault encourages those who wish to give to the homeless to contact the Homeless Outreach Team, for a better idea of which services they can be put in contact with.

The Lubbock City Council released this statement about Lubbock's Homeless Population:

"Homelessness affects every part of our community, and there is no single solution to address the issue. Fortunately, we have great community partners in our churches and non-profit agencies who provide a variety of services to support some of our most vulnerable citizens. The Lubbock Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team has made great strides in their first year, connecting our homeless residents to these services and finding homes for nearly 30 people. Helping those in need encompasses several of our City Council's priorities, including neighborhood improvement, budget assessment, and better communications. As we focus on these issues, we will continue to support the efforts of our Homeless Outreach Team and the mission of our community partners who are working to address the causes of homelessness."

Copyright 2017 KCBD. All rights reserved.