On any given night, there are over 2,000 homeless men, women and children in Travis County. Every number is a real person. And every person has his or her barriers to housing: domestic violence, mental illness, or lost jobs. Some are safe for the night in emergency shelters. Some are working their way toward self-sufficiency in transitional housing. Some sleep on the streets or in abandoned buildings, hungry, dirty and in harm’s way. Whether or not they have roofs over their heads, these individuals call Austin their home just like the rest of us.
During the course of each year, more than 4,000 different homeless Austinites, including more than 600 children, sleep in our local emergency shelter system. The thought that Austin is where homeless persons migrate to during winter is not true. While there are some homeless individuals that do migrate from city to city, the vast majority (more than 72%) became homeless in the central Texas area.
People become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and often overlapping reasons, and solving homelessness requires complex collaboration.
- Lack of Affordable Housing
- Mental Health Issues
- Substance Abuse
Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) is dedicated to planning, prioritizing, and developing strategies to end homelessness in Austin, TX. The overall role of the ECHO is to identify specific strategies and to oversee ongoing planning efforts and implementation of the plan to end chronic homelessness.
What causes homelessness?
The primary cause of homelessness in the U.S. is the lack of affordable housing. For most people, an array of various factors causes homelessness. Individuals living independently in the community can become homeless when any part of their support network fails and they are unable to overcome a set of difficult circumstances. For some people, homelessness is simply the result of not earning enough income 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 leads to 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, and sudden changes.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.
What is a Continuum of Care?
The Continuum of Care is the name of a community-wide grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and it is also the term HUD uses to describe a system, or “continuum,” of services needed in a community to effectively address homelessness. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) and the City of Austin provide leadership to submit the community-wide application to HUD. However, funding is always contingent on broad community participation and leadership, in the form of a “homeless coalition,” as described below.
Theory of a Homeless Coalition
HUD encourages communities to develop homeless coalitions in order to facilitate a comprehensive system-wide approach that meets the many complex needs of homeless people. The implementation of such an approach often requires systemic change in a community’s recognition that homelessness is not the problem of “some other agency,” but the concern of the entire community. A strong, active, and open coalition for the homeless gives a community many advantages. For example, a local coalition that is respected in the community can comment on any proposed law or appropriation that affects the homeless. This allows the coalition to speak as one voice for those who all too often have no voice at all. Coalitions can also play an important role in community planning.