Austin homelessness forum focusing on community help

FILE - People who are homeless in Austin (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - People who are homeless in Austin (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s estimated there are over 2,200 homeless people in Travis County on any given night. That number has skyrocketed just over the last year, climbing 34 percent, according to the Austin Downtown Alliance.

On Tuesday, officials with DAA and the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) are trying a new approach to tackle the rise in homelessness during the fall forum. This years theme: A community approach to tackling homelessness.

Officials say the people attending this forum will participate in a interactive style forum and even mapping out the homeless services system. This is just the beginning phase for identifying gaps and different strategies when it comes to dealing with homelessness.

The real goal is introducing and bringing together the public and private sectors of the community to figure out how they can work together to fight homelessness. That includes social service providers, business owners, elected officials and council members, as well as Mayor Steve Adler.

One of the things the city is trying to fix is the affordable housing problem — especially for the homeless population. But some say the focus needs to shift and soon.

“That’s a long term proposition, creating new housing units, convincing landlords that it’s appropriate to lease to people who may have been homeless before takes a lot of time. In the meantime, we’ve got people languishing on our streets that need help and services, that we’ve got to do a better job to address,” said Bill Brice, Vice President of Operations for the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Over 7,000 people experienced homelessness last year staying in the streets, cars, parks and shelters, according to ECHO’s latest homeless count data. In Austin it breaks down to 80 percent of homeless people unemployed, almost 62 percent are men and almost 20 percent are children.

The city is making strides when it comes to homeless veterans. This year, the Secretary of the federal housing department certified that Austin has ended veteran homelessness. Using a variety of federal programs and some privately raised funds, the city has provided housing for 682 veterans since October 2014.

The forum begins at 8 a.m. Organizers expect around 200 people to attend and say they have reached maximum capacity for attendance.

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