ECHO’s new system finds more homeless people in Austin

New figures show that more people are affected by homelessness than previously thought.

AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of people remain homeless in Austin.

Advocates say the growing population will need more permanent and supportive housing. New numbers show the need could be even greater than the city had anticipated.

ECHO is a local non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Austin. For years, ECHO has been gathering volunteers to conduct the point-in-time count. Volunteers count everyone sleeping outside. The only caveat with counting is that it’s not always the most accurate.

“It has its limitations,” said Akram Al-Turk, ECHO’s director of research and assessment. “You know, it’s mostly done by volunteers and… it’s not a day-long thing. It’s only one night And so it’s possible that we’re missing people.”

When the pandemic hit, ECHO developed a new method to track the homeless population that is more effective than point-in-time counting.

To obtain the new numbers, people affected by homelessness fill out a questionnaire when they receive services across the city. Be it working with a case manager, staying in an emergency shelter, or visiting a community clinic for health care or food.

“We rely on administrative data,” added Al-Turk.

In 2020, ECHO had estimated Austin’s population of homelessness at approximately 3,000 people using the point-in-time census. This year, they estimate that number to be around 4,500, using the nonprofit organization’s new counting method.

While the “old” way of counting may not be the most accurate, it does have its advantages – it helps city guides understand where the homeless population is distributed. In recent years, the city has seen a large group of downtown homeless people.

“This year we think it will be a little bit different,” added Al-Turk. “There will be more scatter”

Since Austin’s camping ban began, more people have dispersed from the center of town. This is an attempt to hide from law enforcement and not be removed from where they were set up. This makes it harder for ECHO to count these people and connect them to services as they are more hidden than before.

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