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Downtown Austin unsheltered homeless population is declining, report finds

The Downtown Austin Alliance report found a 55% decrease from May to October this year.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) on Thursday released a report suggesting that the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Downtown Austin dropped 55% between the months of May and October of this year.

The most recent count was conducted by the DAA on Oct. 20. It estimates that there are around 365 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the Downtown Public Improvement District (PID). In May, around 813 people were living unsheltered in the area.

“We remain cautiously optimistic about the progress as many people who were living unsheltered downtown accepted temporary housing provided by the City of Austin through the HEAL initiative,” said Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the DAA. “However, for many of the unsheltered population, shelter or housing was not readily available. There is still much work to be done to help this population not only with housing, but also with supportive services. Continued progress is of paramount importance to ensure we are serving the people in our community that need help while also ensuring that our public spaces are safe and healthy for the everyone that lives, works and visits Downtown Austin.”

According to the DAA, it is believed the decline can be attributed in part to the HEAL initiative, the reinstatement of the city's camping ban ordinance and the new statewide camping ban that went into effect on Sept. 1.

The DAA started taking monthly counts in May to benchmark and track the number of unsheltered living downtown. This implementation coincided with the community-wide goal established in April to house 3,000 people in three years, in addition to the implementation of two new initiatives created by the DAA and other local homeless-service partner agencies.

Also in April, the DAA, Integral Care and the Downtown Austin Community Court launched the Homelessness Health and Wellness Center program that provides direct access to housing-focused behavioral healthcare for those experiencing homelessness downtown. The program uses Community Court case management resources, Homelessness Outreach Street Team (HOST) and the Terrace at Oak Springs medical clinic as a service hub. Its goal is to enroll 100 people by the end of the year. As of Oct. 11, 70 people were enrolled.

The DAA also launches a partnership with the Trinity Center on Oct. 1, hoping to reunify those experiencing homelessness with their families through the center's existing homeless reunification program. The DAA is providing funding and has helped to expand the referral network for people seeking reunification, now including the Austin Police Department, HOST and the Downtown Ambassadors. Their goal is to reunify 100 people by April 30, 2022.

“The Downtown Austin Alliance continues to advocate for and fund programs and projects that increase housing, shelter and other essential services needed for people experiencing homelessness,” Peart said. “Our work in this area includes advancing the goals from the March-April Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness, providing capital funding for the expansion of Community First! Village and the development of Terrace at Oak Springs and the Salvation Army’s Rathgeber Center, funding the Homelessness Health and Wellness Center and family reunification partnership programs, and providing full-time employment opportunities for people experiencing homelessness through its Downtown Ambassadors program.”

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