AUSTIN, Texas - Data from the annual Point in Time Count has been released by ECHO. The count takes place each winter and aims to gauge how many people are homeless in the region.
The count shows the number of people who are homeless and living without shelter is up 45 percent since last year. At the same time, the number of those who are homeless and living in shelters decreased by twenty percent. The region's homeless population increased by eleven percent overall.
The count conducted in January is the first to take place since Austin relaxed its rules on camping, sitting, lying, and solicitation.
“...an unmistakable conclusion that everyone can draw that the homeless camping ordinance is not working. That it has in fact failed and this has in fact acted as the magnet that we predicted it would be.” said Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County GOP.
The data has renewed calls from the coalition “Save Austin Now” to reinstate Austin's camping ban, restore and extend the sit and lie ordinances, and ban panhandling from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The group has a petition that requires 20,000 signatures by July for these proposed changes to be on the November ballot. There are currently approximately 5,000 signatures.
“For people who think seeing an increase in unsheltered homelessness is a reason to put a camping ban in place, those are folks who don’t believe that housing is a human right and that people should have access to housing,” said Matthew Mollica, executive director of ECHO.
Mackowiak replied, “So there’s two problems with that. Number one housing is a commodity. It’s like saying oranges are a fundamental human right. Someone somewhere has to pay for housing. So, just saying housing is required doesn’t make it available. That said, our coalition supports shelter for the homeless. We want them to be safe.”
Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 7 Austin News app. It is FREE!
Regarding the 45 percent increase in those who are homeless without shelter in the region, ECHO representatives tell FOX 7 Austin they do not believe the homeless population is growing. Instead, they believe that number should be attributed to increased volunteer participation in the Point in Time Count. Volunteer participation in the count increased 39 percent from 2019 to 2020.
“So is homelessness increasing in Austin, or are we actually getting a more accurate count? We think we’re getting a more accurate count of the existing homeless population,” said Sarah Duzinski MPH, vice president of quality assurance and ECHO.
Still, the trend doesn’t appear to be isolated. Since 2014 there has been an approximately 252 percent increase in those who are unsheltered in the area and a 39 percent decrease in those who are homeless and sheltered.
“We’re certainly, I think, over time getting better at the physical act of the point in time count,” said Mollica.