Harris County

More federal funding headed to Harris County for aiding vulnerable communities

A total of 700 residents are projected to participate in ACCESS Harris County this year.


Barbie Robinson, executive director of Harris County Public Health

Earlier today, U.S. Representative from Houston, Lizzie Fletcher, announced that she has secured an additional $1 million in federal funding for aiding vulnerable populations in the Houston area.

Harris County Health Department's ACCESS Program aims to provide resources for 5 primary areas of focus: violence prevention, Black maternal health, re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals, youth transition out of foster care and health care for homeless individuals.

"ACCESS Harris County directs vulnerable residents to a wide variety of support services, like employment, mental health assistance, substance abuse prevention, childcare, transportation, food and more," said Fletcher.

The additional funding Fletcher acquired through the community project funding project in congress brings the total federal investment in the program to $18 million. Harris County itself has also allocated $2.7 million for the project.

A total of 700 residents are projected to participate in ACCESS Harris County this year.

The program aims to bring together multiple organizations and resources in order to serve a community with varied challenges, where residents often have to navigate multiple siloed systems in order to get all of their needs met.

Barbie Robinson, executive director of Harris County Public Health, stressed the importance of the program's coordinated approach, which brings together resources from around the city, county and state.

"People have needs across multiple systems, and that alone is a barrier, to have to run from agency to agency to retell your story over and over again. A lot of folks don't make it," she said. "ACCESS's focus is on getting people out of the safety net, to improved well-being and self-sufficiency. And that's truly what vulnerable and underserved people want."

The ACCESS program started in Sonoma County, California in April 2017. By December 2020, the program had successfully placed 30% of its unhoused and housing insecure residents into homes, passing the national average placement rate, which sits near 8%. The interdisciplinary program was adopted in Houston in 2021 following unanimous approval from the Harris County Commissioners Court.

It has adapted to address the region's specific challenges, such as Black maternal and infant mortality.

"Harris County has one of the highest Black infant and Black maternal mortality rates in the United States," said Robinson. "If Harris County, Wayne County, which is Detroit, Michigan, and Cook County, which is Chicago, Illinois, all reduced our Black infant mortality by 9%, the entire country would achieve equity (in that regard)."

Harris County also has the highest Black maternal mortality rate of any county in the state. According to a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of women dying of causes related to pregnancy rose every year from 2018 to 2020 and then saw an even sharper increase in 2021.

In Texas, Black women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy and birth-related causes than their white counterparts, according to a 2022 report from the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee.

The report stated many of these deaths could have been prevented, in part, by increased access to quality prenatal and postnatal care as well as other resources that ACCESS Harris County aims to provide.

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