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Austin's unsheltered homeless population surges by 45%, overall homelessness up 11%, conservative estimates show

Homelessness is on the rise, according to new estimates. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Homelessness is on the rise, according to new estimates. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Homelessness is on the rise, according to new estimates. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Between 2019 and 2020, Austin's unsheltered homeless population jumped by 45%, from 1,086 to 1,574, while the sheltered population dropped 20%, from 1,169 to 932. Overall, the total population of individuals experiencing homelessness grew by 11%, from 2,255 to 2,506 individuals.

The numbers come from the annual point-in-time estimates, a one-by-one hand count of those people experiencing homelessness conducted on Jan. 25 between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. The volunteer effort, coordinated by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, is done nationwide and helps portion out federal funding for homelessness initiatives. However, the estimates are notoriously conservative and only paint a partial picture of the homelessness situation in a community. For instance, point-in-time estimate volunteers can only count people they actually see and cannot search tents or personal property.

Homelessness in Austin has been on the rise for the last several years, Since 2015, overall homelessness has been on an upward trend. Austin's unsheltered population has been steadily rising since 2014, while the sheltered population has steadily decreased. The city has struggled to add shelter space in recent years, but new efforts are underway to do so.

Since 2018, homelessness has been among the most pressing issues in Austin. Austin City Council made the issue its top priority in 2018 and 2019, over other high-profile needs such as affordability, housing and mobility.

In 2019, Austin experimented in loosening its laws against public camping, sitting and lying down, and solicitation. The decision ignited a monthslong, heated public debate over how the city should respond to the growing homelessness crisis. After almost a year of hyping up the position, Austin hired its first homelessness czar, Lori Pampilo Harris. However, only a month later, the city announced Pampilo Harris would abandon the post. Earlier this year, the city brought on former federal homelessness head Matthew Doherty to consult on solutions.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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