Holistic Assistance Response Teams

Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART) is a new Harris County program created to dispatch 911 directly and other calls to interdisciplinary unarmed, first responder teams, trained in behavioral health and on‐scene medical assistance. The HART program aims to improve community health and safety by quickly providing the appropriate response to residents experiencing homelessness, behavioral health issues, or non-emergency health or social welfare concerns, and to reduce unnecessary law enforcement or hospital-based interventions for non-emergent 911 calls.

The HART Program launched on March 21, 2022, and now has two teams that provide full geographic coverage in the Cypress Station area. HART teams operate 7 days per week with shift coverage from 7 am to 10 pm. In the first few months, HART diverted 486 calls from law enforcement and connected over 300 vulnerable residents in the community to appropriate services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: We have law enforcement, why do we need additional violence prevention programs?

A: In Harris County, the zip codes with the highest rates of gun violence also have the greatest social challenges: generational poverty, insufficient or no health insurance, lack of access to healthy food, underemployment, and economic insecurity. 

As a public health department, Harris County Public Health (HCPH) views violence as a health issue. Violent behavior does not happen in a vacuum, but in environments suffering from systemic and chronic social stressors. The “public health approach” to addressing violence focuses on prevention through addressing the known factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of violence

Q: How did these violence prevention programs come about?

A. Violent crime is increasing nationally and locally. In August 2021, Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved Harris County Public Health (HCPH) to establish its Community Health and Violence Prevention Services Division to administer programs that use a public health approach to violence prevention. Considering the needs of some of the County’s most violent communities, and researching other successful programs throughout the country, HCPH created the program structure, selected the pilot communities and the prevention strategies to use in each pilot.

Q: Who will operate the Violence Prevention Program?

A. HCPH will operate the program through its Community Health and Violence Prevention Division.

Q: What are the goals of the program?

A. The goals are to prevent violence and improve the health, wellbeing, and self-sufficiency of Harris County residents. Violence victimizes entire communities: claiming lives, ripping apart families, robbing residents of their sense of security, and destroying their neighborhood economies. The program offers resources that are complimentary to law enforcement and addresses unmet needs.

Q: Will these programs be used in all Harris County communities?

A. The programs will be launched in Spring 2022 in two pilot communities, Cypress Station in unincorporated Harris County and Sunnyside, in the City of Houston.

Q: What are these programs?

The goals of the CVIP are to prevent violence, prevent the recurrence of violence, and prevent retaliation. To accomplish this, there are two locations for interventions, in the community and in the hospital. The Community Violence Interruption Program (CVIP) will be implemented in Cypress Station, in unincorporated Harris County, and Sunnyside, in the City of Houston. 

  • In these communities, staff will work directly with community members to help defuse violence through interpersonal, organizational, and community strategies. They will also identify resources needed to improve health outcomes and help prevent disparities.
  • The hospital intervention focuses on patients who are survivors of violence and meeting their needs to help them avoid future violence and injuries.
  • In partnership with Harris Health, Ben Taub was selected as the hospital to implement the hospital-based violence interruption program. As a Level 1 Trauma Center and a county hospital, Ben Taub has provided medical care for the highest number of injuries due to violent crime. It is a critical part of Harris County’s safety net system and responsible for the health needs of the population most in need of victims’ services.
  • The Community Violence Interruption Program will be implemented in Cypress Station in zip code 77090 and in three Sunnyside area zip codes: 77021, 77051 and 77033.
  • These zip codes were selected using data based on social factors that affect health and intersecting with high rates of violence.
  • There is no law enforcement involvement in this program.
Q: How does the Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART) work?

The Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART) will launch in some areas of Cypress Station, in unincorporated Harris County. This is a new model for responding to non-violent 911 calls.

  • Not all 911 calls require a deputy or police officer. If someone calls 911 regarding a homeless person, or with an urgent mental health issue, law enforcement may not be needed.
  • When this program launches in the spring, Sheriff’s Department Dispatchers will have a new option for responding to non-violent, 911 calls in parts of Cypress Station.
  • Dispatchers will determine which incidents are appropriate to send a HART unit to.
  • These are teams of trained social workers, behavioral health, and medical professionals.  They are not armed and will be in uniforms and vehicles identifying them as HART.
  • Their training allows them to effectively assist someone in distress and connect them to the appropriate resources for help.
  • If people get help with housing, mental or physical health issues, they may not repeat the behavior that resulted in a 911 call.
  • HART provides resources that are complimentary to law enforcement and frees up law enforcement officers to focus on violent crime.
  • These resources are provided by (HCPH) and don’t require law enforcement funding.
  • The HART will be administered by HCPH’s Community Health and Violence Prevention Services Division.
  • The service provider for HART is DEMA Consulting & Management. DEMA was selected based on its excellent track record of working with vulnerable populations. Their unique approach employs holistic trauma-informed care practices, while maintaining cultural competency for diverse populations.  
Q: Is there evidence these two programs will work?

A: Both the Community Violence Interruption Program and HART are currently being used successfully in dozens of U.S. cities, including in Texas. It has reduced the number of calls requiring law enforcement, connected people in distress with needed resources and freed up law enforcement to deal with violence, which is increasing locally and nationally.