Volunteers hit Austin-Travis County streets for first in-person homeless count in 2 years
AUSTIN, Texas - For the first time in two years, volunteers hit the streets of Austin to count as many people as possible who are living without shelter.
"Thank you for having the soul to care about our neighbors," Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said.
In the dark, cold, rain, hundreds of volunteers gathered at around 3:00 a.m. Saturday to find as many homeless people as possible.
"The feeling, the sense, the connection and feeling of community that is right here in this sanctuary is something we should bask in. It’s a feeling of Austin, it’s a connection that we have one with each other and with all of the people tonight that we will be reaching out to," Mayor Watson said.
Gina McCool is one of hundreds who volunteered Saturday. "They're my neighbors. They just happen to be unhoused, so I want to meet them and if I can be of service to them, I want to do that." McCool said.
The volunteers searched the woods, behind buildings, and under overpasses. "Where are you going to be sleeping tonight?" one volunteer asked a homeless person.
The volunteers fill out a survey about the homeless person’s personal information and health and hand out care kits with toiletries, warm clothes, and snacks. The point in time count is then compiled into a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how much federal funding Austin-Travis County Continuum of Care will receive in its next budget.
"We’re going out here right now so we can get an accurate count to get these numbers to the right people to make sure our clients of the unhoused community are getting resources," Hungry Hill Foundation executive director Chase Wright said.
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It’s been two years since the Continuum of Care has used this search-and-find method and some said it may not be the most accurate process. The Sergeant over the Constable Outreach Program in Travis County Precinct 3 said it was more difficult to count everyone Saturday because of the rain, less volunteers this year, and he said more homeless people are moving around more often.
"I talked with several that are well known people experiencing homelessness in the Oak Hill area that I have a great relationship and they're telling me people are staying in one place more than two or three days right now, they're not establishing a long term camp and they're just staying and they'll move because they've been getting pushed as they call it out of their regular encampments, so it's not the fact that they're not there, they're not as easily found as before," Sgt. Drew McAngus said.
He said this point in time count is not a complete and accurate tally of how many people are homeless.
"We never get the real numbers. I think we probably count one out of every three that are out there," Sgt. McAngus said.
But he said it’s a way for them to check up on their neighbors.
"It shows them that there's people that care, that want to help, help them in their set of circumstances. We have so many here in our area here in Travis County that sometimes they feel like they're forgotten or the only time anyone cares is people complaining about it," Sgt. McAngus said.
Ending Community Homeless Coalition, or ECHO estimates at least 4,500 people are homeless in Austin or Travis County.