Volunteers setting out this weekend to count Austin’s homeless

Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (KXAN photo)
Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (KXAN photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of volunteers are setting out to count every single homeless person in Austin this weekend. Each year local groups organize the count which allows them to receive federal grant money to fund homeless services.

In 2017, volunteers counted 2,036 people living on the streets.

“We plan the point-in-time count all year, we never stop planning it. We call it our [South by Southwest],” said homeless management information system director Katy Manganella.

Volunteers talk with every person to find out who they are and why they’re on the streets. Local groups say it’s vital information that will make the homeless situation better.

”We need to know as a system that we are serving the right people and we are investing in the right programs, data helps us to know that,” said Manganella.

She says getting the data is no small task.

“This is my third point-in-time count, the first two times I was transitioning from homelessness to independence, and now I am independent,” said Gage Kemp.

Kemp is returning this year, not as a statistic, but as a volunteer. “My experience gives me a very different experiences on where you are going to hide or sleep if you are homeless or ashamed of being homeless,” he said.

Kemp says this is his way to give back because he understands that with the count comes federal money that helps fund programs that brought him out of homelessness. “I want to build more on the good things,” said Kemp.

Each year Austin receives around $6 million in federal funding, conducting a point-in-time count is just one requirement to get the money.

“We’ve been trying to focus on the downtown situation, but we haven’t had any new resources,” said Ending Community Homelessness Coalition executive director Ann Howard. “We know who they are, we know what they need and they are waiting. They are sort of trapped because we don’t have enough housing programs to get them off the street.”

There will soon be a new place for homeless people to go until they get back on their feet. A first of its kind permanent support housing community broke ground in east Austin earlier this week.

Integral Care’s “housing first” Oak Springs Apartment community will have 50 units. It’ll be an integrated health clinic offering treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. There will also be a community room with a library, employment services, and outdoor exercise space.

The goal is to get homeless people into permanent affordable housing. The complex is expected to open in September of 2019.

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