Counting Austin's Homeless

Austin nonprofit will contribute to nationwide count

Counting Austin's Homeless

Ending Community Homelessness Coalition is recruiting 300 additional volunteers to count Austin’s homeless population, most specifically those who will be sleeping outside in the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 24.

Under the terms of ECHO’s federal funding (via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), every year the coalition counts both the people staying in shelters (i.e., "sheltered") and those sleeping "unsheltered" on the streets, greenbelts, and elsewhere. Volunteer registration is open and ECHO is training volunteers throughout January, for three shifts that will perform counts in Downtown/Central Austin, the suburbs, and the distant areas of Travis County. In order to do a more thorough job this year covering all of Travis County, ECHO is recruiting 500 volunteers in all (up from 300 in 2014). Interested volunteers can register at www.austinecho.org. All volunteers (who will most often work in teams of three) will need to attend trainings scheduled in January.

The Austin effort is part of a nationwide “Point-in-Time” count, which is compiled across the country during the last 10 days of January – when the most people are likely to be sheltered against the weather. According to ECHO, in Austin most people outside shelters are found in homeless campsites in the very early morning, making that time effective for the most accurate count of those unsheltered.

Homeless counts provide critical information on the number and characteristics of U.S. homeless, data used to measure homelessness on a local and national level. HUD publishes the data annually on its HUD Exchange website, and the count also becomes part of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report used by Congress and federal departments to understand the nature and extent of homelessness. Locally, the count is used to measure Travis County’s progress in reducing homelessness and to understand the subpopulations - e.g., veterans, people with mental illness and substance abuse, and people who have experienced domestic violence - and the number of unaccompanied youth, singles, and families. The 2014 Travis County PIT Count found a total of 1,987 homeless people: 1,539 sheltered, 448 unsheltered.

Concerning 2015’s additional volunteers, ECHO Executive Director Ann Howard said in a release, “We want to be thorough. … We want to recruit and train as many volunteers as we can to more thoroughly cover the community. We strive for an accurate count. While it has been satisfactory to see our [homeless] numbers going down from year to year for the last six years, we want to make sure we are not missing areas and people.”

For more information about ECHO or to volunteer, visit www.austinecho.org/get-involved/volunteer.

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