County works to get better look at homeless picture

Homeless

How many homeless people are there in Travis County? How many choose to stay at shelters? It’s hard to say, but there are some numbers.

ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, sent out teams of volunteers Friday to find out.

The one-day headcount is an annual requirement to earn $5.5 million in housing and urban development money that will go to 10 local nonprofits that help the homeless with shelter, food, aid and healthcare. The groups include Caritas, Front Steps, Green Doors, Life Works, Safe Place and the Salvation Army.

ECHO Executive Director Ann Howard says there is always one consistent.

“We need more housing,” she said. “There simply is not enough affordable housing for those people who want to improve their situation in life.”

Last year’s snapshot found 2,090 homeless living in Travis County. About 1,300 of them used shelters at some point during the year, but 765, more than a third, did not.

Michelle, who with her husband Will, has avoided shelters for four years, panhandling by day, sleeping outdoors by night.

“Too many rules and not enough places for everybody,” she said of the county’s shelters. “I’d rather be out here, even though I have health problems.”

Ray Cole led one of the many volunteer teams doing the head count. He says substance abuse problems cut both ways.

“Some people stay away from shelters and some locations along Interstate 35 because there are more people who abuse drugs and alcohol,” he said, “they’d rather be further out, on their own.”

Last year’s survey also found that among people who used shelters at least occasionally, 5,148 were adult men, 1,928 were women and 1,033 were children.

Among those who availed themselves of some sort of assistance last year, 2,617 were severely mentally ill. The count also showed 1,142 were substance abusers and 1,220 were veterans. The survey also found 240 unaccompanied children.

Surveyors often find the same people on the streets, year after year.

Danny has preferred that life for twelve years. I survive, I live in the woods. We get money together and buy food every day.

“Shelter is like jail to me,” he added. “It’s confinement surrounded by a bunch of people. I’d rather be free.”

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