Homelessness is a complex issue that cuts across a multitude
of arenas including housing, basic needs, health, workforce development,
education, early education and care, and public safety. In short,
a person is in a homeless situation when he or she "lacks
a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence" (McKinney-Vento
Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, codified in U.S Code, Title 42,
Chapter 119, Subchapter 1, Section 11302(a)). The U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also defines "homeless
person." Individuals must meet HUD's definition of "homeless"
in order to receive HUD-funded services. HUD's definition is cited
- An estimated 3,977 homeless single adults, families, and youth
live in Austin/Travis County on any given day. The number of
people in homeless situations continues to increase yearly,
based on surveys of providers of homeless services.
- While the majority of homeless persons are still single men,
families are the fastest growing population of homeless in the
area. An estimated 1 out of every 5 homeless persons is a child.
Unfortunately, Austin lacks enough shelter for homeless families,
forcing many to live in their cars or on the streets until space
- Despite strong economic growth in recent years, some of the
primary causes of homelessness are poverty, low wages, and a
lack of affordable housing.
- Increasing costs and competition for limited federal funds
may result in the loss of critical services in the system of
care for homeless persons. More local funding, both government
and private, is needed for all types of homeless services.
- HUD, the largest funder of homeless services, is shifting
its focus to funding of bricks-and-mortar housing and not supportive
services, effectively reducing funding for those services that
help homeless persons reach independence.
- Although progress has been made to increase the number of shelter
spaces available in the community, more permanent affordable housing
and more transitional housing are still needed.
Causes of Homelessness
For most people, an accumulation of various factors leads to
homelessness. Individuals living independently in the community
can become homeless when any part of their support network fails
and then an event changes their lives dramatically. For some people,
homelessness is simply the result of not earning enough money
to be able to afford housing. For others, homelessness is a chronic
life situation fueled by substance abuse or untreated mental illness.
For many, the factor that originally causes homelessness is exacerbated
over time by other factors. Some of the major factors that contribute
to homelessness are:
- Lack of Affordable Housing
- Economic Factors
- Domestic Violence
- Mental Illness
- Substance Abuse
- Sudden Change
Approximately 3,977 people are homeless in the Austin/Travis
County area on any given day. This number reflects estimated counts
of homeless persons receiving homeless services and those who
are turned away from services because of a lack of service capacity.
In Austin/Travis County, survivors of domestic violence make
up the largest group of homeless individuals. Persons with serious
mental illness, chronic substance abuse or dual diagnosis (both
mental illness and substance abuse issues) make up the next largest
There are several sub-populations of homeless individuals, all
with their own service needs. Some of the major sub-populations
include single adults, families with children, homeless youth,
elderly persons, veterans, individuals recently discharged from
institutional facilities, and rural homeless individuals.
Austin's Homeless Demographic Profile
- 3,977 homeless persons on any given
- 43% are individuals in families
- 33% are single, adult male
- 17% are single, adult female
- 7% are unaccompanied youth
Cross-Cutting Issues & Impacts on Homelessness
Being homeless has many impacts on various aspects of life. Employment,
health and education are three areas that are largely affected
Many homeless individuals have difficulty finding employment
because they have no place of residence, discouraging employers
from hiring. In cases where homeless persons do find jobs, they
often are not paid adequately or do not receive any benefits.
Many homeless persons find "non-standard" work, work
that is temporary, part of a day labor program, or part-time.
This type of work does not allow for stability, especially as
it relates to housing. Despite these obstacles, according to a
survey of 30 U.S cities, one in five homeless persons is employed
(U.S Conference of Mayors, 1998), and in Texas, 41% of homeless
persons reported having a job (Samuels, 1999).
Homeless individuals are susceptible to many of the same illnesses
as housed individuals, but with no place to recover from their
illnesses or to treat an injury, their health problems are prolonged
and exacerbated. Unfortunately because many homeless individuals
do not have access to adequate nutrition, hygiene, shelter from
weather elements, or first aid, their health is very often compromised.
In Austin/Travis County, there are an estimated 932 homeless
children in families, representing 23% of the homeless population.
Unaccompanied youth account for 7% (Austin/Travis County 2001
Annual Survey of Homeless Service Providers, March 2001) of the
area's homeless population on any given day. Lack of transportation,
school supplies, clothes, and hygiene items affect a homeless
student's ability to attend school. Furthermore, frequent moving
from place to place, barriers to enrollment, and the stigma of
being homeless also influence whether a student accesses education
services. Some specific activities to eliminate barriers are discussed.
Data about literacy and education levels of individuals receiving
homeless services have not routinely been collected or analyzed
by most local service providers. Several literacy and education
resources specifically for persons experiencing homelessness are
provided in the Austin/Travis County area.
Many factors may hinder a homeless individual from exiting homelessness.
- The lack of adequate services in key components of the continuum
of care is one of the primary reasons homeless persons do not
successfully transition to self-sufficiency. Gaps in services
are generally the result of inadequate funding.
- HUD has recently emphasized a priority for funding housing
rather than supportive services, and no other agency has been
able to meet the demand for funding for supportive services.
New gaps in service may result from not providing continued
funding for existing services.
- Increased local competition for funds has limited the funding
available to agencies that serve homeless persons.
- HUD's definition of "homeless" prevents agencies
from assisting many individuals in the early stages of their
homelessness and causes many homeless families to become frustrated
with the system of services.
- A decrease in government assistance for low-income individuals
means that more people are at-risk for becoming homeless.
- Many people feel ambivalent toward the issue of homelessness
and toward homeless people themselves. That ambivalence affects
individual and collective behaviors and public policy priorities.
What Have We Done Since 1996?
In January of 1996, the Austin City Council adopted a no-camping
ordinance and voted to establish an official City task force on
homelessness. The Homeless Task Force became an official planning
body of the Community Action Network (CAN) in 1996, and in December
of that year published A Comprehensive Plan for Addressing Homelessness
in Austin/Travis County. The Comprehensive Plan also served as
the basis for the Homeless Task Force's 1997 Implementation Options
report and the city government's Homeless Self-Sufficiency and
Responsibility Initiative ("Homeless Initiative") which
was developed in 1998.
This assessment chronicles progress that has been made since
1996 in the following components of homeless services: emergency
shelter, transitional housing, permanent housing, and supportive
and preventive services. It also describes groups that oversee
the development of local homeless services.
Service Delivery System
Homeless services in Austin/Travis County are conceptualized
as a continuum of care, that is, a comprehensive and coordinated
housing and service delivery system. This framework helps communities
plan for and provide a balance of emergency, transitional, and
permanent housing and service resources to address the needs of
homeless persons so they can make the critical transition from
the streets to jobs and independent living. The continuum also
includes services to prevent homelessness. Current services in
the Austin/Travis County homelessness continuum of care are described.
Gaps in services and estimated needs for services, based on findings
from a 2001 survey of service providers, are also discussed.
What is Being Spent?
Within homeless services, an annual survey is conducted to determine
funding sources for homeless services in the community. The City
of Austin and Travis County together spend over $6.8 million to
purchase social services to assist the homeless.
HOMELESS INVESTMENTS IN TRAVIS COUNTY
|By CAN partners
|By Federal Agencies
|By selected major local investors
Note: The 2001 period represents varying fiscal calendars.
*Most agencies collect information by type of service provided,
not by population served. Services for homeless are often combined
with services for the total population. Thus, the information
provided here does not provide the complete picture.
The recommendations stemming from this assessment reflect suggestions
from the Continuum of Care grant application process, the development
of the CAN Urgent Issues Plan for Homeless Services, and research
conducted for this assessment.
Building on Existing Efforts
- Continue providing emergency shelter
- Continue Funding of Supportive Services
- Continue Funding Components of the Homeless Initiative
- Continue Development of Transitional Housing and Permanent Affordable
- Provide Housing First
- Integrate Social Service Systems at All Levels
- Increase Access to Mainstream Human Service, Health, and Housing
- Increase Homelessness Prevention Efforts
Performance Measures Developed for City/County Social Services
Contracts with Homeless Service Providers
Type of Indicator
- Number of emergency shelter beds
in the community
- Number of persons who receive emergency shelter
- Number of persons who receive case management
- Number of persons who access permanent, affordable housing
as a result of services provided
- Estimated number of homeless persons in Austin/Travis
2001 Homeless Assessment Home Page