Homeless population drops in Austin, Travis County


Annual count shows a drop in the city’s and county’s chronic homeless population.

Official credits recent campaigns to house veterans and homeless youths for the drop.

Chronic homelessness in Austin and Travis County this year dropped by 28 percent compared with 2016, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

The news isn’t all good, however. The results released Thursday showed that overall homelessness dropped by just 5 percent, when compared with the same time last year. The census also found an 84 percent spike in adults struggling with substance abuse in 2017 compared with 2016 and a 28.6 percent increase in homeless Austinites who have experienced domestic violence.

“We are moving in the right direction, but there is still tremendous need,” said District 9 City Council Member Kathie Tovo, who was one of the more than 500 volunteers who helped with this year’s annual point-in-time count.

Ann Howard, executive director of the coalition, also known as ECHO, credits recent campaigns to house veterans and homeless youths for the drop.

“We’ve developed a system that’s working together with a lot of intentionality,” Howard said. “When we work together, we see success.”

Nonprofit groups share a database for referrals and to track clients. Working with the city, the groups prioritize the most vulnerable and those who have been living on the streets for a long time.

However, Howard also said the fight against homelessness in Austin needs more funding and support: “We’ve got to get more resources in the pool so we can house more people, more quickly.”

The census, which was conducted overnight on Jan. 28, included homeless people in cars, tents, parks, under bridges and on the streets. That same night, staffers at agencies operating shelters and transitional housing programs counted people staying there.

The annual count, a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities receiving HUD funds, did find some spikes among homeless subpopulations.

Related: Austin wins $5.2 million grant to tackle youth homelessness

In 2016, the homeless count showed a 20 percent uptick compared with 2015. However, coalition officials said at the time that some of the increase was attributed to a larger number of volunteers returning a better count. This year’s census included more than 500 volunteers, which was similar to 2016.

Austin’s homeless population was concentrated mostly downtown. According to ECHO, about 472 people sleep at downtown shelters on a given night while about 178 people sleep in the surrounding streets.

“It’s a dire situation,” said Tovo, whose district includes the downtown area. District 9 had a nearly 12 percent jump in the number of unsheltered people counted this year compared with 2016.

Tovo said she’s hopeful that efforts such as Austin’s Homeless Outreach Street Team, a pilot program that began in the summer of 2016, will continue. The interdisciplinary team — made up of police officers, social workers and paramedics — builds relationships with homeless people and tries to connect them with resources.

“Ending homelessness needs to be a collaboration,” she said.

Related: Austin wins Bloomberg grant to aid homeless outreach

This year was Tovo’s second year hitting the streets to help count the city’s homeless, an experience she described as life-changing. One young, visually impaired person she met described being assaulted on the streets; a second struggles with mental health issues.

“All of them, of course, shared some common needs. Most of them had various challenges, different hard times that led to their loss of housing,” she said. “All of them, of course, are our neighbors.”

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