AUSTIN, Texas - Every year, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition sends out volunteers for a point-in-time count. They find out just how many homeless people there are in Austin on a chosen day.
"We did not conduct an in-person count this year. The alternative methodology uses HMIS data," said Akram Al-Turk, director of research and evaluation at ECHO.
Due to the pandemic, this year ECHO used information in their homeless management information system to estimate the number of homeless in the city. They recorded data from that system on Jan. 28, 2021. This method is far different from physically counting people as usual. The HMIS system tracks only the people who seek social services.
"The total this year was 3,160 people that's about a 1 percent decrease from 2020 using the same data from the HMIS method," said Al-Turk.
Although the number decreased, ECHO acknowledged an increase in homelessness visibility due to reduced shelter capacity, COVID-19 fears, and tent donations. Evictions have also been on hold due to the pandemic.
"From 2014-2019 we hover just under 200 evictions per week in our community. In 2020 beginning around March, eviction filings went down to very low around 23 that helped," said Sarah Duzinski, vice-president of quality assurance at ECHO.
However, ECHO is concerned evictions are a sleeping giant, due to the moratorium expiring this summer. Numbers could shoot back up. "I’m very concerned that after Aug. 1 that those numbers will go back up to where they were," said Al-Turk.
Breaking down the 3,160 number: of those, 713 people were in a congregate shelter, 209 in protective lodges like motels, 2,238 were unsheltered. ECHO said ultimately, this just demonstrates the immediate need for affordable housing.
We are still really focused on the acquisition, construction, and creation of affordable housing, deeply affordable housing in this community.
It is important to note, that this method is entirely data-driven. It is not the face-to-face interaction and count that the volunteers would normally do. When it comes to demographics, black people are overrepresented among the homeless population, representing more than 30 percent of the homeless population, while just being 8 percent of Austin-Travis County.