AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, is preparing for its first official homeless population census in the Austin and Travis County area in three years. Volunteers gathered on Saturday to make hygiene kits for the people they will meet during the count called “Point in Time” (PIT), which is scheduled for January 28 from 2:00 to 8:00.
The PIT is an annual nationwide census of the homeless. This gives officials insight into trends and provides data to local groups to support their advocacy efforts and funding appeals. Travis County does estimate the number of homeless people living in the area based on meetings with homeless services, but the PIT is considered a more accurate measure.
“This is really our main source of data on who is homeless in our area. As we have not done this personal count since 2020, we do not have a full update on this,” said Claire Burrus, research and evaluation manager at ECHO.
“We won’t be surprised if their numbers increase,” she continued. “But in the meantime, we’ll see what we find next week.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers have not been able to organize into large groups for this census. This will be the first PIT count in the area since January 2020; ECHO previously helped with this once every two years.
“This is our first opportunity to get an idea of what the distribution of our non-residential neighbors looks like right now,” said Angela de Leon, ECHO’s internal operations manager. “Night time gives us the opportunity to provide the most accurate count. People don’t move as much, which helps us avoid double counting.”
The kits collected by volunteers included hygiene products, some clothes and snacks. De Leon said the PIT is a great opportunity to bring these products to the people who need them.
Today, ECHO’s goal was to create up to 3,000 care kits. De Leon said they likely won’t reach that goal, but will accept donations until the evening of the event.
Due to policy changes over the past few years, such as the reinstatement of a camping ban enacted in May 2021, ECHO said it may be harder to find areas where homeless people live.
“We try to give people as much information as possible about where to look,” De Leon said. “But then again, because there were so many changes because of politics and just because of the pandemic. It’s like we don’t know what we don’t know.”
De Leon said the process is generally not the most convenient for the people doing the count and for those being counted. But various local groups that provide services to the homeless in Travis County have laid the groundwork for the event over the past couple of months.
“You can imagine if someone could be your house in the middle of the night, that wouldn’t be great,” she said. “I don’t know if anyone is excited about it, but I also think people understand the reason behind it.”
ECHO is still looking for new volunteers to perform on the night of January 27th. If people are interested, they can visit the Austin ECHO website.