The number of homeless people in Austin has gone up, again. Homelessness is up by five percent to 2,255. The annual point-in-time count was performed on January 26. In the early morning hours, 500 volunteers counted the number of children, families and adults experiencing homelessness. The results of the annual point-in-time count were released on Tuesday and are the highest since 2011.
Homelessness in Austin is starting to look different.
“It's more visible now, I think, than a year ago,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
The new point-in-time count shows that since last year 72 more people are living in cars, tents, parks, under bridges and on the streets. Many people would guess it's more.
“This pop-up of camping tents under highways and bridges, I think, really catches our attention,” said Ann Howard, Executive Director of ECHO.
Overall, the number of homeless people in Austin is up five percent from 2,148 in 2018 to 2,255 in 2019. Almost half were counted living outside, the rest were counted in shelters.
“The numbers are not moving in the direction we want, they are increased,” said Austin Council Member Kathie Tovo.
“More people is not better and it means we need to redouble our efforts,” said Mayor Adler.
The homeless count is higher than it's been since 2011. But several projects underway in Austin are helping to reduce homelessness for young adults.
“The first and most important thing is getting youth into housing,” said Susan McDowell, CEO of Lifeworks Austin.
Lifeworks is building 29 apartments for homeless youth. It's one example of how nonprofits and the City of Austin have cut in half the number of 18 to 24-year-old men and women living on the streets.
“The first priority is housing but then we begin to wrap around educational services, workforce and also mental health services to address the trauma many of them have faced while homeless,” said McDowell.
The annual homeless count is one window into the growing problem. But some council members say to see the issue clearly you must change your perspective.
“We can't give up. We can't look at this number of people experiencing homelessness going up as something that should discourage us. Instead we should feel hope as a basis for action,” said Austin Council Member Greg Casar.
The city's next actions will be hiring a homeless czar and looking at a new strategy for getting chronically homeless people into housing.