Homelessness: By The Numbers
Each year, Continuums of Care (CoC) report on the number of individuals experiencing homeless in their community to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD requirements for quantifying homelessness is part of funding requirements that date back to 2003.
In 2005, HUD began to require that Continuums of Care adopt the Point in Time (PIT) count method. In addition to the PIT Count, HUD currently requires a Housing Inventory Count and HMIS data from every CoC. HUD reports this data to Congress in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
Both the definition used by HUD to define homelessness and the methodologies of the counts have several limitations. They don’t include individuals who are:
Hospitalized or institutionalized
Currently in jail
Doubled up and living with family or friend
People not engaged in traditional homelessness services.
Studies show that the timing and process of the PIT count also has the added effect of:
Creating bias due to the lack of racial diversity by count volunteers
Missing individuals that are well hidden or are of the grid and only engaging in more informal services
Not accounting for changing methodologies and definitions, which in turn impact metrics
Continuums of Care also use their own statistical methods for filling in gaps in their counts. These methods, though, vary from community to community and often lack transparency.
Quantifying Homelessness in the U.S.
A National View of Homelessness
Nationwide, there has been a drop in homeless over the last ten years by 14.4%, with 170 in every 100,000 individuals experiencing homelessness. Even with the overall decrease, 2017 saw an increase in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness driven largely by individuals that were unsheltered and living in major cities. This is the first time in 10 years that the US has seen an increase in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness, even though the homeless individuals that are sheltered and living in rural areas have seen a decrease. Families with children were the only subpopulation to see a decrease in 2017, according to HUD data. The other subpopulations – veterans, unaccompanied youth, and chronic homeless saw an increase from 2016 to 2017.
Homelessness in Texas
Texas, similarly saw an increase in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in the 2017 Point in Time Count. Overall Texas has seen a 33% increase in the total homeless population since 2007. While Texas is the state with the fourth largest population of homelessness with 23,548 individual experiencing homelessness, it’s rate of homelessness is lower than the national average with only 90 in 100,000 people experiencing homelessness.
Homeless Communities of Color
Nationally communities of color, specifically African American, American Indian, and Alaskan Native individuals were overrepresented in HMIS data, while White and Hispanic/Latina communities were underrepresented.
Homelessness in Austin
Rate of Homeless Per 100,000 People in Select U.S. Cities
Austin’s rate of homelessness, unlike the national trend, saw a decrease during the 2017 Point in Time Count. The 2017 PIT decrease, though, was book ended by increases in 2016 and 2018. Austin saw major decreases in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness from 2007 to 2009. For the last nine years, though, the number of individuals identified as experiencing homelessness during the PIT count has roughly hovered around 2,000.
Although HUD counts identified 2,174 individuals during the 2018 Point in Time Count. There were 5,949 unique individuals that enter into shelter in 2017. Other partners like Central Health have identified over 10,000 unique individuals experiencing homelessness that have entered into their service.
Homelessness in Austin is proportionally male, African American, and middle aged.
The majority of individuals experiencing homelessness are between the ages of 45 and 64. They make 37% of the homeless population.
Even though gender is largely 50% male and 50% female in Travis County, the majority of individuals experiencing homelessness are male. This overrepresentation is only present among the adult population. The gender breakdown for youths experiencing homelessness is roughly even as reported by the CoC’s 2017 Housing Inventory Count.
Even though the Black community makes up only 9% of Travis County, they make-up 42% of the homeless population. White and Hispanic communities are underrepresented and make up roughly 30% of the population (Non-Hispanic) and 25% respectively.
City of Austin
Homelessness has a deep and far-reaching impact on City of Austin Services. The auditor's report on the city's coordination of homelessness assistance efforts identified 22 different departments in the city that are either impacted by or serve the homeless population in Austin.
Although homelessness has been identified by departments as a major issue, systems often lack processes to effectively and accurately capture instances related to homelessness. Departments that do collect comprehensive data about the individuals they serve have seen an over-representation of instances related to homelessness or in which an individual experiencing homelessness is involved.
There were 24,828 times that an individual experiencing homelessness was recorded as an offender by APD. The largest single charge was Criminal Trespassing, which made up for roughly a quarter of all charges related to homelessness. There were over 40,000 calls from the public related to homelessness.
There were 9,373 incidents involving a person experiencing homeless recorded by Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services in 2017. The majority of incidents were unspecified conditions followed by Overdose or Poisoning. There were a total of 18 deaths and 11 births.
The majority of encampments that were documented by Parks and Recreation in 2017 were located in greenways South of Town Lake . There was a major increase in the number of encampments documented in 2017. There were only 22 and 3 encampments documented in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
Calls to 311 were directed to over 15 different departments in addition to the Texas Department of Transportation. Over half of the calls were directed to the Austin Police Department. Roughly another quarter of calls were directed to Code. Other calls were directed to departments like Animal Services, Parks and Recreation, Austin Public Health, and Watershed Protection.
The City of Austin has recognized the need to address homelessness using a more holistic approach. As a result, the city has created two programs, the Homelessness Outreach Street Team (HOST) and the Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC), to work on the barriers that individuals experiencing homelessness encounter.
Homelessness Outreach Street Team (HOST)
The Homelessness Outreach Street Team is a mobile multi-disciplinary team that works to address the need of individuals that are living on the street. Composed of 2 to 3 staff members from Downtown Austin Community Court, the Austin Police Department, and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service, and Integral Care, HOST works together to holistically address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and provides much needed outreach to individuals not formally engaged in services. In addition to providing navigation, HOST liaises with community partners to get individuals access to mental and physical health care, shelter, IDs, and other unmet needs that the individual has identified. By meeting individuals where they’re at and by addressing specific and unique needs, HOST is able to divert individuals from the criminal justice system and emergency medical services, which reduces service duplication, wait times, gaps in service, and costs.
Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC)
Established in 1999, the Downtown Austin Community Court was created to address public order offenses that occurred in Downtown, East Austin, and the West Campus. The Downtown Austin Community Court provides alternative methods to resolve public order offenses, which diverts individuals that are not able to make traditional financial restitution from jail, addressing economic inequalities present in the community. Given the large proportion of clients that are homeless DACC expanded to include intensive case management to help individuals stabilize and stop them from cycling through the criminal justice system. Case management helps individuals to stabilize and resolve by obtaining substance use treatment, temporary housing, counseling, medical coverage, assistance with benefits and employment. In addition to helping individuals stabilize and resolve, DACC’s services divert individuals from public systems like the ER and jail decreasing the cost to both the health care and criminal justice systems.