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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a commission meeting at the Texas Capitol. [JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN] Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a commission meeting at the Texas Capitol. [JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a commission meeting at the Texas Capitol. [JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Madlin Mekelburg
By Madlin Mekelburg October 17, 2019

How much does the city of Austin spend, per homeless person?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has the city of Austin in his sights.

The Republican governor has threatened state action if the Austin City Council does not take steps to address its decision to lift a ban on camping in public places that is aimed at homeless people.

In one of several tweets criticizing the city, Abbott suggested that local leaders are not directing available resources appropriately.

"The City of Austin is dedicating more than $20,000 PER HOMELESS PERSON in Austin," Abbott wrote in a tweet. "The problem isn't resources. It's prioritization. It's inaction & word salad on an urgent public health & safety issue. Haven For Hope in San Antonio works. Lawlessness is never the answer."

Haven for Hope is a shelter-like program in San Antonio that operates using private and government funding. In its latest budget, the city of San Antonio allocated more than $500,000 for the program.

Abbott repeated his estimate about Austin in an interview on Austin television station KXAN.

"The city of Austin is tapping into their taxpayers for more than $20,000 per homeless person," Abbott said. "If they can’t get this problem fixed by spending $20,000 or more per homeless person, the problem is not the homeless. The problem is a lack of leadership in Austin, Texas."

We had to ask: Is Abbott’s estimate accurate?

Sort of. While it is true that the city has allocated significant funding toward addressing homelessness, a large chunk of the funding is aimed at preventing homelessness, rather than going to programs to support individuals who are currently homeless.

Austin budget looks at future programs

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the governor’s statement was based on the city’s current homeless population and its recently adopted budget.

"The current Austin homeless population is 2,255 according to ECHO," Wittman said in an email, referencing the non-profit Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. "The current Austin budget calls for $62.7 million to be spent on homelessness initiatives. This breaks down to $27,804.88 per homeless person."

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition data Wittman pointed to came from the 2019 Point in Time Count, a count of an area’s homeless population, as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This year’s survey shows that there were 2,255 homeless people in Austin. Of those, 1,169 were sheltered and 1,086 were unsheltered.

Austin's homeless population has remained relatively steady over the past nine years, fluctuating from a high of 2,362 in 2011 to a low of 1,832 in 2015.

Wittman also shared links to news articles discussing Austin's proposed budget, including one from KXAN breaking down the dollars for homelessness.

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"Another report from KXAN says the city is spending $37,000 per homeless person," Wittman said in his email.

The article explored the city’s budget proposal and included a calculation for how much money officials were planning to spend per homeless person during the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

Wittman got the figure from the article right, but left out a key detail.

"If you just look at the totals, it would appear the city is planning to spend $37,000 per homeless person," the article reads. "However, most of this budget isn’t going to individuals but instead to programs aimed at keeping people off the street."

Looking at the city 

The Austin City Council voted in September to approve a $4.2 billion budget, which included $62.7 million for programs aimed at homelessness, plus an additional $500,000 for crisis services and "encampment cleanups."

The funding is divided into three categories: housing displacement prevention, crisis mitigation and re-empowerment, according to a city budget document.

The budget allocates roughly $20.4 million for housing displacement prevention, which includes homelessness prevention services and emergency relocation services for people at risk of being displaced from their homes.

Funding under this umbrella goes toward keeping people in their houses, as opposed to services aiding individuals currently experiencing homelessness.

The budget also spends $23.9 million for "crisis mitigation," which includes support for emergency shelters, mental health and substance use disorder treatment and outreach teams that identify and assist homeless people "before they reach a state of crisis."

The final $18.4 million is earmarked for creating and maintaining affordable housing and for contracting with local organizations to develop strategies for ending homelessness in the city.

Only one of the three budget categories goes directly to services for people currently experiencing homelessness: the $23.9 million for "crisis mitigation."

That would be roughly $10,000 per homeless person.

Our ruling

Abbott said, "The City of Austin is dedicating more than $20,000 PER HOMELESS PERSON in Austin."

The math behind Abbott’s claim checks out for the overall budget for homeless initiatives — $62.7 million — and there are an estimated 2,255 homeless people in the city. Divided evenly, that’s $27,804 per homeless person.

But a large chunk of the $62.7 million is going toward programs to prevent homelessness and toward affordable housing, not directly to people experiencing homelessness.

Abbott's claim needs more context. We rate this claim Half True.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Our Sources

Tweet, Gov. Greg Abbott, Oct. 10, 2019

Email interview with John Wittman, spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott, Oct. 14, 2019

KXAN, More spending on homelessness than ever, an in-depth look at Austin’s proposed plan, Sept. 10, 2019

KXAN, Gov. Abbott says he’s not bluffing: the state will act if Austin camping ban’s not reinstated, Oct. 14, 2019

Austin ECHO, Homelessness in Austin, accessed Oct. 14, 2019

KUT, Austin Proposes Budget That Includes $62.7 Million For 'Moral Imperative' Of Ending Homelessness, Aug. 5, 2019

Austin American-Statesman, City Council rescinds measures that critics say criminalize homelessness, June 21, 2019

Austin American-Statesman, Gov. Greg Abbott threatens state intervention over Austin’s homeless ordinances, Oct. 3, 2019

City of Austin, Austin City Council Approves Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Budget, Sept. 11, 2019

City of Austin, 2020 Proposed Budget, accessed Oct. 14, 2019

City of Austin, Addressing Homelessness in Austin, accessed Oct. 14, 2019

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