AUSTIN (KXAN) — This weekend, volunteers will be out and about, trying to count every single person who is homeless.
The annual Point In Time Count (PIT Count) is something that has to be done every year, so Austin can receive federal money to help combat homelessness.
The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) leads the PIT Count effort.
Last year’s numbers showed there were 2,255 people experiencing homelessness in Travis County on a single day.
Two different definitions of homelessness
The PIT Count follows what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tells it to do.
They count “unsheltered” homelessness, which is counting people at places like the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless downtown or those who are sleeping outside on the street or in cars.
School districts use a different definition to track homeless families.
They follow a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Its definition of homelessness is broader and counts everyone who falls into these categories:
The number of homeless students enrolled in the Austin Independent School District has been decreasing over recent years.
Rose Coleman, Coordinator of Project HELP, which is an AISD program that provides services to homeless families, said a lot of decline has to do with families moving out of the city because housing is just too expensive in Austin.
AISD’s Project Help
According to its website, Project HELP’s goal is:
- Providing services to an increasing number of Austin ISD students under McKinney-Vento
- Maintaining partnerships/collaborations with our many community resource collaborators
- Ensuring our service strategies are student-centered and aligned with students foremost being academically successful.
Coleman said, “Many times, these students and families bounce around and stay with aunts for a couple weeks, and then grandma for a couple months.”
She said living doubled up can be very stressful for kids.
“What I would really like for people to understand [is] the enormous hardship that students and families are under when they have to share the housing for other families,” Coleman explained. “It’s often very overcrowded situations, highly traumatic for students.”
Project HELP ensures school buses are available, so kids don’t have to change schools every time their families go from one temporary place to another, trying to provide as much stability as they can.
Through donors, the program also “provide things they need,” Coleman told KXAN. “Assistance for field trips, band instrument, things like that, we can help with clothes, hygiene supplies.”
Coleman said the district doesn’t work to reduce homelessness, but connects families to services.
Their website lists organizations like Foundation Communities, Salvation Army and Life Works.
We spoke with a woman named Kimberly who stayed at the Salvation Army’s Austin Shelter for Women and Children for about five months.
“It was lifesaving for us. I know it was,” she said. “For me, I felt like it was a blessing to be here because there’s no telling where we could’ve been, unsteadiness we could’ve had, getting back to where we needed to be in life.”
She said working with case managers played a crucial role in helping her get back on her feet and finding an apartment for her and her kids.