Annual count of homeless in Travis County shows 20 percent increase

For the first time in five years the homeless population in Travis County went up according to the Ending Community Homeless Coalition (ECHO).

500 ECHO volunteers counted almost 400 more people living in shelters and on the streets than last year.
“ECHO has been in charge of this count now for years and we've learned how to do it. So it's probably an underrepresentation of the number of people out there. I have other data that talks about homelessness day in and day out and that number's up too, so I think it's not only valid that we found more people, but more people need our help,” said Ann Howard, executive director of ECHO.

This year, ECHO said people in need of shelter are in more Austin neighborhoods than ever before.

“So they're not just under I-35 downtown. They're along Mopac or 360 or 2222 or down at ben white, slaughter, North, South, East and West,” Howard said.

President of House the Homeless Richard Troxell said he has encountered two main reasons for the number of people without a permanent home in Austin.

The first cause of homelessness in Travis County is caused by the low minimum wage and the high cost of living.

“Who can get housed in Austin for $7.25 an hour, about $13,000, it takes about $13 an hour to get into and maintain an efficiency apartment here in Austin,” Troxell said. 

The second reason, which is new information even to Troxell, is health issues.

“We found what we believe is a direct link between traumatic brain injury and the condition of being homeless,” Troxell said.  

Troxell said he found that 80 percent of homeless people surveyed had suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury. And, if he's right, there is treatment for the condition already available in the form of counseling, medication and, in some cases, surgery.

“We've got a hook on what we might be able to do on that medical condition to reverse it - fantastic, there's hope,” said Troxell. 

Hope for not only the increasing number of homeless in Travis County, but the millions of homeless nationwide.

House the Homeless and ECHO both agree the best way to help those experiencing homelessness in Travis County is to find them shelter, but ECHO said during their annual count they found no empty beds at Austin’s shelters.

So, unless more landlords step up to offer affordable housing to homeless people in the city, anyone new who comes to the area will not have a shelter to stay in.