Nonprofits Step Up to Bring Unhoused to Warm Shelter: City struggles to reach people and bring them in from the cold – News
Homeless Austinites try to stay warm at the Hungry Hill Foundation on December 23rd (Photo by John Anderson)
As midnight approached on Friday, December 23, and temperatures in Austin dipped below 15 degrees with winds gusting to 30 miles per hour, Ayanna Ransom he knew there were people left out in the cold. She just had to go find them.
For the next two hours, that’s exactly what she, Chase Wrightand others Hungry Hill Foundation the staff did. They drove to the camps near the East Austin neighborhood where Wright operates the day resource center he founded in 2021 and offers people a warm place to sleep. Ransom, Hungry Hill’s outreach director, told him CHRONICLE Friday morning that she knew where to look for people because she interacts with them every day. “I knew who might try to get him out in the cold,” Ransom said, as he frantically prepared for the bitter temperatures to return that night. “We sent food and blankets so people at least knew someone was supporting them. Then we went back to get them in once more.”
“We know this community because we are part of it. We knew where to look for people, so we went out and got them.” – Hungry Hill Foundation Executive Director Chase Wright
Wright estimates that 25 people took shelter in Hungry Hill’s makeshift shelter, the garage inside one Phillips 66 gas station located on the corner of 12th and Springdale. Wright’s family has owned it since 1966. Last year, Wright converted it into a day care center that now serves 110 clients in the Central East Austin neighborhood where he grew up. “We know this community because we are part of it,” he told us. “We knew where to look for the people,” like in a wooded camp behind a park, “so we went out and got them.”
One of those people was John Mason, an elderly man who had lived in East Austin off and on since his family moved there in 1953. Before coming to the shelter early Friday morning, he asked Wright to ‘brought him a hand sanitizer that he could use as fuel. for a fire. When Wright returned later and asked if Mason wanted to come to Hungry Hill, he changed his mind.
Michael Williams it was another late arrival. He initially declined an invitation, but when temperatures dropped, Williams reconsidered. “I thought I’d be fine,” he said, wrapped in blankets inside the Hungry Hill tent, “but when the winds started whipping, man, that cold was different.” He came to the shelter around midnight.
Hungry Hill was just one of the community organizations that helped the city respond to four days of extreme cold that threatened the lives of Austin’s homeless population. City of Austin, which presented the award orAustin Area Urban League a $1.2 million contract in November to operate it cold weather shelter system, sheltered 1,559 people from December 22 to 26. AAUL ran three overnight shelters, while the city had three other overflow locations.
Selena Xiepresident of the Austin EMS Association, said medics played a key role in getting people to shelters. Community Health Paramedics, who work with the homeless, reached out to people after the city made the decision to activate cold weather shelters. Time was of the essence, so homeless Austinites could make plans to move down A center of Texasat South First and Barton Springs, which served as a central meeting point for people seeking shelter, during the narrow registration window (6-8 p.m. each night the shelters were activated).
Xie, Wright and other partners in the cold weather response agreed that while the city may have performed better this year than during the 2021 disaster Winter storm Uri, there was still much room for improvement. Xie and Wright said better communication before the next freeze will be key. “We need 48 hours’ notice, and we need flyers posted with at least 36 hours’ notice of when the shelters will open,” Xie told us. She added that shelter locations should also be broadcast publicly so that homeless people can go to a location convenient for them instead of traveling to One Texas Center, which can require a significant trip. The registration window should be extended and people should be allowed to register directly in the shelters and the temperature at which the shelters are activated should be increased to 40 degrees. Those concerns were echoed in an audit filed with the city earlier this month, which found the city lacked staff trained in cold weather plans and had inconsistently activated its shelters.
The city says using a central point of embarkation (OTC) helps shelter operations run as efficiently and smoothly as possible and that shelter locations are not disclosed to protect staff and guests. Currently, shelters are only activated if conditions meet strict criteria: 32 degrees or colder overnight, 35 degrees with rain, or 35 degrees with a wind chill of 32 degrees or colder. But these instructions can be confusing. Advocates are asking the Council and city staff to look at realigning them with an approach that results in the shelters being activated more often (temperatures actually dropped below the threshold overnight, Dec. 18, but the system did not activate).
Advance notice would help outreach groups and homeless individuals. A man named Joseph stood outside One Texas Center Thursday night and told us he made the tough decision to leave the tent he lived in near North Lamar and Parmer Lane, more than 10 miles and an hour’s bus ride away. because he I don’t have time to store it everywhere. He learned about cold weather shelters only that morning. “No one on the north side knows about this place,” Joseph said. “I basically took all my stuff that I couldn’t replace, but I had to leave the tent. Hopefully it’ll still be there when I get back there, but who knows.”
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