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Austin's Homeless Population is Shrinking. Is It Permanent?

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News.
Bruce Klein has been homeless for years. Klein says he owes his survival to the goodness of strangers. He believes it's only a matter of time before number of people living on the streets of Austin spikes back up.

This year’s count of people who are homeless shows a decline in numbers for the Austin area. It’s the fourth consecutive year of decline. So, what’s behind the shrinking numbers of people who live on the streets?

Ann Howard leads an organization called ECHO -- the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. She hopes the day will come when there are no more people who are homeless and then she’ll move to a different line of work. And, if her predictions are right, that day may come soon for Austin.

“We are about to see sort of a system’s tsunami,” says Howard. “What I mean by that is: We’ve passed the affordable housing bond, we are undergoing Medicaid reform here in Travis County.” Howard also points to positive changes in the way the law-enforcement community approaches people who are homeless.

So, she believes more housing and better support services may shrink the population living on Austin’s streets in the next few years.

Bruce Klein, however, disagrees. You can often find Klein on a park bench next to the Travis County Court building. That has been his spot for years. Klein is chronically homeless. And he says word on the street in other cities is: “Go to Austin.”

Klein believes as the systems improve locally, the numbers of homeless people will increase. He says he’s recently met people who have traded the streets of Dallas and San Antonio for those in Austin.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.