AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several months after hundreds of volunteers canvassed Austin overnight, looking for people sleeping outside, the Point-In-Time (PIT) count data is expected to be released this spring.
But the Ending Community Homeless Coalition (ECHO) said the in-person count is not the most accurate depiction of how many people are sleeping outside and the numbers are likely to be an undercount.
“There are some requirements that HUD have that make it to where you’re not really actually counting everyone experiencing homeless because, for example, you have to actually see them, so if you see a tent and you think that somebody is in there you couldn’t count them,” said Akram Al-Turk, director of research and evaluation at ECHO.
During the pandemic, the PIT count was put on hold due to health and safety reasons. During that time, ECHO put together a way to collect data from local outreach groups to estimate the number of people living outside any given night in Austin. They have a dashboard that displays those results.
“There are service providers who are working directly with people experiencing homelessness… Those folks are inputting data into a centralized database and we’re analyzing that data to really help us understand the scope of homelessness on a regular basis,” Al-Turk said.
The most recent update on that dashboard shows more than 4,000 people are sleeping outside on any given night in Austin-Travis County. That’s the highest number since the dashboard was started roughly two years ago.
Al-Turk pointed to the cost of living in Austin and the eviction moratorium lifting as reasons for that, but he also said the data collection has gotten better, which also contributes to the uptick because fewer people are being left out of the numbers.
This year’s PIT was the first since 2020. Now biannual, an Austin nonprofit assembles volunteers to physically count the homeless population and get information from them via a survey.
The PIT counts take place in person all over the country. Results must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development every other year to determine the allocation of federal funding to address community needs.