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Austin Opens Up Its First Cold Weather Shelter Services During COVID-19

A view outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless from November of 2019.
A view outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless from November of 2019.

Overnight temperatures are expected to dip below 30 degrees Monday night, and the City of Austin has activated its cold weather shelter protocols for Austinites in need.

It's the first time the city, along with the Salvation Army, FrontSteps and other nonprofit service providers, has activated the shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Weather Service expects temperatures in the Austin area to drop to a low of 28 degrees overnight.

In light of the coronavirus, the city and its partners have had to rethink their typical sheltering process, which usually houses anywhere from 200 to 400 people.

Shelter space is still first-come, first-served, though people in need of a place to stay warm must wear a mask and pass a temperature screening. Capital Metro buses will then transport people in socially distanced shuttles to temporary shelters at city recreation centers.

  • Single adults should be at the Downtown Central Library on Cesar Chavez Street by 6 p.m. to sign up; registration will end by 8 p.m.

  • Families in need of shelter must go to the Salvation Army's downtown shelter on 8th Street by 6 p.m.

Typically, the city relies on its network of faith-based service providers for sheltering, but Bryce Bencivengo of the city's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the city decided to suspend partnership in light of COVID-19.

"We can't do that this year," Bencivengo said. "Most of the volunteers that do that work with them are elderly or people who are in high-risk categories, and we didn't think that was advisable for them to do that this year."

Bencivengo said the city is relying primarily on recreation centers to shelter people Monday night.

He added that tonight's first go-round with COVID-19 precautions will inform how the city goes forward with its cold weather shelters this winter, but the city's sheltering of hurricane evacuees earlier this year was a helpful trial run.

Bencivengo said it's also hard to gauge how many Austinites will seek shelter, as many people experiencing homelessness have been staying at the city's protective lodging facilities — repurposed hotel and motel properties the city is using to house those who can't safely isolate.

"We don't know how many people are going to take advantage of this service," he said. "So, really how many people we expect is kind of the big X-factor for us today. We don't really know."

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.