AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the second year in a row, an important process to help keep track of Austin’s homeless population has been canceled due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, an Austin nonprofit in charge of the annual count said Thursday. However, the organization said it’s using other methods to gather up-to-date data.
The annual Point in Time Count is coordinated locally by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, and offers a look at how many people are experiencing homelessness in Austin on any given night. These counts happen all over the country, usually in-person and in January. Numbers from the count are submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), so communities can qualify for funds to address homelessness.
“Due to the ongoing health risks COVID-19 poses to our community – and especially to our neighbors experiencing homelessness – the Leadership Council for the Austin/Travis County Homelessness Response System voted not to hold an in-person PIT Count in 2022,” a spokesperson for ECHO told KXAN in a statement Thursday.
ECHO explained the Leadership Council is separate from ECHO and consists of local government representatives, people who have experienced homelessness in the past, advocates and services partners. ECHO said it supports the decision made by the council.
When the count was canceled last year, ECHO said its research and evaluation team used a system called the HMIS Snapshot to track the homeless population and submitted those numbers to HUD. The information is pulled monthly rather than yearly from the database and is available to the public through an online dashboard.
Recent numbers on the dashboard show in November 2021, there were at least 2,523 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Austin. Another 740 were experiencing sheltered homelessness.
“The Snapshot and the PIT Count are not interchangeable datasets, however, and we look forward to a time when we can again gather safely in person to meet people experiencing homelessness where they are,” an ECHO spokesperson explained.
The last PIT Count took place in January 2020. AT the time, more than 900 volunteers came together for the cause.
ECHO said although the in-person PIT Count isn’t happening this year, its network of providers is organizing a call to action for the Austin community in the Week of Action to Support Ending Homelessness.
An ECHO spokesperson said, “providers are working now to finalize the simple actions [they’ll] be asking community members to take in the last few days of January to improve people’s lives and contribute to [their] system-wide effort to provide housing and supportive services to everyone who needs them.”
More details on the Week of Action is expected to be released in the coming days and weeks.