Number of persons experiencing homelessness - Annual Count of Sheltered Homeless Persons in the Homeless Management Information System [HMIS]


Continuums of Care (CoCs) representing the 48 most populous cities in the United States, including the Austin/Travis County CoC, are assigned to the “Major City” CoC category by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This is done to better understand how homelessness differs by geography and levels of urbanization and population.
Among Major City Continuums Care: 
  • The average number of unique sheltered individuals in the HMIS database in 2020 was 9,187; the median was 5,905.
  • The average number of unique sheltered individuals in the HMIS database in 2019 was 9,958, the median was 6165.
  • The average number of unique sheltered individuals in the HMIS database in 2018 was 9,819, the median was 5,338. 
  • The average number of unique sheltered individuals in the HMIS database in 2017 was 9,581, the median was 5,648.
  • The average number of unique sheltered individuals in the HMIS database in 2016 was 10,167, the median was 5,892. 
HMIS = Homeless Management Information System

Based on this, the Austin/Travis County CoC is performing well above the national standard (average and median) for this measure. 
*Medians provided to show the high level of skewness of this data (i.e. cities that have extremely high numbers of clients represented in this measure that drag the average towards a higher number). 
**Average numbers for 2021 data are not yet available.


The annual number of individuals accessing shelter decreased in 2020 and 2021, due to two major contributing factors – 1) changes in ARCH operations and 2) the COVID-19 pandemic. These reductions are not necessarily indicative of the number of individuals experiencing homelessness decreasing during these times. 
In 2019-2020, a new City contract to operate the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) included both a reduction in total sleep capacity and transitioning from a nightly lottery system to a housing-focused service model.  This change followed recommendations from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, resulting in a “right sizing” of shelter capacity and service, reducing the number of people staying in shelter each night, and increasing the number of people exiting to permanent housing. 
In March 2020, a State of Emergency was declared due to COVID-19.  To promote and maintain health and safety, congregate shelter providers reduced shelter capacity to maintain appropriate spacing between individuals, in accordance with CDC guidelines. These changes, most significant in Austin’s two largest homeless shelters, resulted in fewer individuals accessing shelter. Separately, as part of the COVID-19 emergency response the City of Austin stood up Protective Lodge facilities (ProLodges) which were temporary non-congregate shelters to protect the health and wellbeing of high-risk individuals. Persons experiencing homelessness that utilized a ProLodge (April 2020 through October 2021) were not included in the emergency shelter count as ProLodge sites were part of the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) pandemic response. Congregate shelter providers will continue to adjust shelter capacity in accordance with local and federal guidelines to keep participants and staff safe.
Note: to see the underlying data for this chart, please select the "View Source Data" link to the left.

Additional Measure Insights

The chart below displays the number of sheltered clients in HMIS over the past five years broken out by race. It is important to examine the characteristics of clients being served by the homeless services system with a lens to racial equity. This helps our community recognize disparities that exist and work to eliminate them, ensuring that individuals experiencing homelessness in Austin can access and receive services without prejudice. To this end, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) is leading a work group to evaluate equity within Austin's homeless services system, particularly with regards to race, and they have set the following objectives:
  • Collaborate with the City of Austin Equity Office to critically analyze system tools, policies, hiring practices, housing interventions/ strategies, etc.
  • This group has a desire to switch the responsibility of culturally congruent services from the client to the service provider(s)/ homeless system.
  • Work with the CoC [Continuum of Care] to ensure that all agencies/ programs working within the CoC adhere to best practices that decrease racial disparities.
In 2021, the Austin/Travis County Continuum of Care, led by ECHO implemented a number of equity-focused changes to to address racial disparities in the Homelessness Response System, including:
  • Revamping the governance structure of the Continuum of Care (CoC). The newly created Homelessness Response System Leadership Council, the managing board of the CoC, has codified policies to maximize diverse representation of homelessness system stakeholders and individuals with lived expertise.  Specifically, the governance charter requires one-third of its members to be composed of people who identify as non-white and / or Hispanic, and reserves three seats for individuals with lived expertise of homelessness.
  • The Leadership Council decided and sourced funding to compensate people with lived expertise in homelessness that serve not only on Leadership Council, but its committees and workgroups.
  • The CoC created and adopted the Austin Prioritization Index, a new equity-centered prioritization tool that is used to connect people experiencing homelessness with housing programs. The goal is to eliminate race, gender, and sexual-orientation disparities in how people access housing programs in Austin.  

Measure Details and Definition

1) Definition:  This measure is the number of individuals experiencing sheltered homelessness in the Austin/Travis County Continuum of Care (CoC) in a given fiscal year.
2) Calculation method: Annual count of sheltered homeless persons in HMIS, including those in Emergency Shelter, Safe Haven, and Transitional Housing project types.
3) Data Collection Process:  This data is collected homeless services organizations who provide shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness. The data is aggregated by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) and reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on an annual basis. 
4) Measure Target Calculation: The target for this measure is the median number of sheltered individuals in HMIS counted by communities similar to Austin/Travis County during the 2020 fiscal year. There is not yet aggregate national data published on HUD's website to create a new measure target calculation for FY2021. 
5) Frequency Measure is Reported: Annually (Fiscal Year)
Date page was last updated: July 2022