Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, officials with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition will not conduct the 20201 Point in Time headcount of Austin’s homeless population.
ECHO concluded it would be “irresponsible” and “negligent” to conduct a standard count for the following reasons:
• High case count in Texas, along with rising cases in Austin/Travis County that recently triggered Stage 5 safety guidelines in Austin
• People experiencing homelessness are at high risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19; combined with a lack of contact tracers in Texas, an infection resulting from an in-person count would be dangerous
• A lack of health insurance in Austin/Travis County limits the ability of our community to access testing and/or treatment
• An in-person count would pull resources, within ECHO and among direct service providers, away from the COVID-19 emergency response
• A lower volunteer turnout resulting from safety guidelines would almost certainly lead to an undercount, which is more damaging to our response system than estimating the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness using other datasets
“We have a responsibility to our neighbors experiencing homelessness, as well as to our staff, volunteers, and community, not to engage in activities that increase the risk of spreading the virus,” said Sarah Duzinski, ECHO’s Vice President of Quality Assurance. “Either we jeopardize the health of the very people we are trying to serve and hundreds of staff and volunteers or try to hold a scaled-back operation that would likely lead to an undercount; neither of those outcomes serves the best interests of our community. The PIT Count is a valuable resource to understand trends year to year, but ultimately we feel the risks this year far outweigh the benefits to our community.”
In January of 2020, volunteers fanned out across the area for the annual count. 2506 people were counted, which was an increase of 11-percent from 2019.