Nearly 300 people died while living on Austin streets last year. That's a record.
Two-hundred-ninety-six people experiencing homelessness died on Austin’s streets over the last year.
Each one was remembered — even if they didn’t have names — with a single chime from a crystal vase Sunday morning on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.
The nonprofit House the Homeless has been hosting the vigil for 30 years. Advocates coordinate with the Travis County medical examiner and the community to compile a list of the dead. This year's death toll exceeded last year's 251-person count and set a record.
Some of the people who died — including five adults and an infant — couldn't be identified by any next of kin. Their names were unknown.
Chris Baker, who runs The Other Ones Foundation, says it doesn’t have to be this way. He said he hopes a new City Council takes a more aggressive approach in working with nonprofits to prevent these deaths.
"To give the appropriate send-off to every person that died on the streets we’d have to do this every day," said Baker, whose nonprofit helps get people into housing. "And the toughest part of the whole thing is when you get to the end, and you’ve got people who you only got a street name for, you’ve only got a first name for. Then, you’ve got five people and a baby. What are we doing? What are we doing?"
At least 3,600 people live outdoors in Austin, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition's most recent count. Local leaders have a half-billion-dollar plan to house them within the next few years.
Baker and others say that housing can’t come soon enough.