AUSTIN (KXAN) — Volunteers with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) early Saturday morning completed the first official census of the homeless population in the Austin and Travis County area in three years. 

The effort is intended to understand how many people might be without shelter on any given night in Austin. ECHO uses the point in time (PIT) count with its existing data to understand the need for assistance.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers couldn’t organize in large groups to execute this census. This will be the first PIT count in the area since January 2020; previously, ECHO would facilitate it every other year.  

The count is used by the federal government to designate funding and it is the primary way it tracks the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, according to ECHO.

“The data is put together with all the other PIT counts across the country and put in a report to congress that helps to inform congress of the amount of folks experiencing unsheltered homelessness across the country,” said Matt Mollica, ECHO’s executive director.

Some Austin city officials joined ECHO volunteers Saturday morning, including former Austin Mayor Steve Adler, current Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly.

ECHO was hoping for 1,000 volunteers. It said the more people out counting, the more accurate the count.

One volunteer, who has participated in the count several times, said getting to know Austin’s unhoused is the most important part.

“So many people coming out of jail with nowhere to go; so many people – Austin natives – who lived here and can’t afford it anymore and they end up living outside,” the volunteer said. “Everyone’s got a story; if they are willing to talk to you they are willing to tell it.