Volunteers gather across Austin to count homeless population

Early Saturday morning hundreds of volunteers fanned out across the City of Austin, working to count the number of people sleeping on the street. 

“This is a neat experience to actually go out and be with people in our community that we often don’t talk and interact with,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. 

The effort is part of the “point in time count,” something cities across the country take part in each year.

In Austin, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO  is spearheading the effort: “This is not science this is not perfect so these point in time counts that we’re doing with cities across the country… don’t count everyone. There are people that will be in places that we just can’t find.” 

Last year, the count found approximately 2,200 people.

Following ordinance changes that effectively decriminalized, camping, sitting and lying on Austin’s streets this year, Adler, is hoping that number will be higher. 

“I hope that the count today is significantly higher than the count we’ve gotten in the last several years. I hope we find more people today. I hope we are more able to identify where people are because we know if we do that they’re that much closer to getting services.” he said. 

The count comes approximately 24 hours after Raecala Morris, a homeless woman confessed to stabbing five people in Austin’s popular nightlife district, East Sixth Street. At this time, police have confirmed three victims.

The stabbings caused Austin Police Chief Brian Manley to address a recent uptick in crime downtown, at a press conference Friday. “We are taking steps to try and address what has been a turn in the wrong direction for violent crime in this community and we are willing to bring in anyone that is willing to assist,” Manley said.

Manley, says Austinites should expect to see an increased police presence in the nightlife district, this weekend.  

Governor Greg Abbott also weighed in issuing a statement that read in-part “City leaders of Austin have allowed lawlessness throughout the capital city that is resulting in violence against Austin residents, including those who are homeless.” 

Adler, however, says the spike in crime is not linked to homelessness. “The suggestion that there’s a link between criminality and homelessness is not supported by the facts it is harmful it is dangerous and it makes it so people get scared and they’re less likely to actually help people experiencing homelessness.”