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Latest estimate shows Austin's homeless population dipped slightly as folks move out of downtown

Gabriel C. Pérez

Fewer Austinites were experiencing homelessness during this year's census of the homeless population compared to the previous count in 2020 — but a larger portion of people moved to areas outside of Central Austin.

All told, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition found 2,374 people were unhoused in Travis County during an overnight survey known as a point-in-time count in January. This was a decrease from when the last census took place in 2020, which saw a 10-year high.

The nonprofit didn't do in-person counts during the pandemic.

Despite that decrease, Claire Burrows, the nonprofit's research and evaluation manager, said, overall, the Austin area's homeless population has been on the rise over the last six years.

"To compare with prior years, looking back at our ... data since 2017, the number of people identified as experiencing homelessness over the years has been incrementally, steadily increasing," she said. "The trend is definitely clear here that this count has definitely been increasing."

Burrows said the count also showed a “substantial” decrease in the number of people sleeping outside in the downtown area.

Ending Community Homelessness Coalition

That’s likely a side effect of the city’s reinstatement of bans on camping and sleeping outside in 2021. The survey showed more people moving away from Central Austin, where the bans are more strictly enforced.

District 5 in South Austin saw the highest increase in population as a result of that sprawl, according to the survey.

Burrows also said more people were found on public land this year than during the 2020 count.

"A larger proportion of people were living in secluded areas like city-owned greenbelts, nature preserves and parks in 2023 than they were in 2020," she said.

As in previous years, the point-in-time count showed Black Austinites are disproportionately represented in the overall population. The survey also found the overwhelming majority of people experiencing homelessness were from the Austin area, with three out of four people saying they first became homeless in Austin.

The count is far from scientific. It relies on hundreds of volunteers to fan out over all of Travis County to count people sleeping outdoors.

The overnight survey is required to receive federal funding to combat homelessness. This year's count was done in late January, and roughly 700 volunteers participated in the countywide survey.

The point-in-time count isn't ECHO's only count of Austin's homeless population. The nonprofit also hosts a running estimate of the population by counting the number of new requests for housing and medical assistance.

That estimate is nearly double the point-in-time count. It shows 5,400 people are currently either living outdoors or in a shelter, 4,561 of whom are experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

This year's point-in-time count comes as the city moves to build more shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Austin's long been lacking shelter space for its homeless population. The city has roughly 900 beds for people, after the closure of The Salvation Army's downtown shelter. Interim City Manager Jesús Garza announced earlier this month the city is repurposing a warehouse space in Southeast Austin to accommodate 300 people.

Local leaders have invested more heavily in housing developments coupled with social services, known as permanent supportive housing.

ECHO said it expects 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing to be available within the next two years. That's due in part to the city and county's investment of pandemic-era federal relief money into addressing homelessness.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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