Dozens of staff from the City of Austin and partner agencies helped shelter hundreds of vulnerable people from the cold weather at up to five overnight Cold Weather Shelters between Thursday evening and Tuesday morning.
Because temperatures remained below freezing on Friday and Saturday during the day, the City extended the operational hours of Cold Weather Shelters to provide continuous operations on both days.
In addition, four Warming Centers opened Friday and Saturday during the daytime at City facilities that would otherwise have been closed for the holidays, to supplement the Cold Weather Shelters and provide temporary relief from the cold during the day.
The shelters, warming centers, and staging areas demonstrated progress towards the creation of a robust resilience hub network, providing an opportunity to further test a number of sites for their capacity to provide services.
“Over the past few days and into the holidays, staff – and our community partners – worked around the clock to ensure our City was prepared and that our most vulnerable populations had access to shelter,” said Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk. “Thank you to all those assisting with operations, coordinating logistics, providing education and outreach, working the Cold Weather Shelters and Warming Centers that served hundreds of our unhoused residents, and to our public safety staff who work day in and day out to keep our community safe.”
With temperatures rising above freezing in the morning hours on Sunday, the City was able to return to regular overnight hours for Cold Weather Sheltering. Guests were provided with breakfast and a box lunch before shelters closed for the day.
Registration for overnight Shelters reopened later on Sunday for those in need of shelter Sunday night, when temperatures were forecast to dip again. National Weather Service forecasts for Monday night into Tuesday morning suggested that temperatures could briefly dip below freezing in the early morning hours. At about 9 a.m. on Monday morning, following updated forecasts, the decision was made to open Cold Weather Shelters overnight Monday.
The City’s process for running overnight shelters includes registration at a central embarkation point – the One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road – before transportation is provided to one of the shelters. The registration process helps the City manage limited resources, including shelter capacity, as effectively and efficiently as possible. This process also allows the City to move people as a group rather than respond to calls individually across Austin. First responders have direct access to the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) if they find someone that needs access or admission to the shelter after the registration period. Due to the extreme temperatures, City departments also established transportation services so that anyone in need after the registration period could contact 3-1-1 to be transported to a shelter location.
The number of people staying at Cold Weather Shelters ranged from 459, on Friday, Dec. 23, to 115, on Monday Dec. 26. In total, 1,559 shelter stays were recorded between Thursday, Dec. 22 and Monday, Dec. 26.
Under a new Austin Public Health contract, the Austin Area Urban League (AAUL) managed three of the City shelters, while City staff managed additional overflow locations. AAUL also led a distribution center and outreach team, and worked with community groups to distribute meals prepared by Pam’s Kitchen of Walking by Faith Prison Ministry. 10,000 Fearless First Responders provided security designed to make participants feel safe in the space they are in.
"It is the Austin Area Urban League way to serve with purpose and step in when needed, to fuel advocacy in the community - especially for the most vulnerable among us, our brothers and sisters living in an unhoused or homeless status," said Quincy Dunlap, President and CEO, Austin Area Urban League. "The ATX community and City of Austin taking care of the most vulnerable community members is a society advancing and I am proud of this evolution and the AAUL team. Special thanks to the collaborative of community-based partner organizations, the City of Austin, Austin Public Health and various departments, and individual volunteers that helped people get to shelter and related services, get to their families, or shelter in place. We are looking forward to growing the response together and continuously serving together for a greater impact."
Many community groups also focused on supply distribution, outreach and transportation. Groups also distributed shelter-in-place supplies and food, with the primary focus getting people to shelter and/or making sure they had all the information and shelter-in-place supplies they needed.
Austin Mutual Aid (AMA) coordinated supply and food donations, volunteer drives and outreach teams. Members of AMA staff and volunteers worked alongside Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, which expanded its hours to offer safety planning, information, and support to its callers. Sunrise Hotline staff also maintained a consistent presence at St. David’s Episcopal Church assisting with in-person work, coordination, and outreach.
After the shelter intake process closed each day, various outreach teams from the City, AMA, AAUL, Hungry Hill Foundation (which also led a shelter and supported a second) and We Can Now, drove throughout the city picking people up for shelter, distributing information flyers and providing food and shelter-in-place supplies. They collected and distributed return-to-camp supplies as well.
The Community Resilience Trust, which had a direct line of communication with the Austin-Travis County EOC, worked on a range of coordinated actions and requests, such as logistical solutions, translation of information flyers, and communications.
Runner City through Mama Noy's Kitchen provided hundreds of meals daily along with Our Shared Kitchen and Carol’s Kindness, which Austin Bicycles helped deliver. Vax Together Austin supplied warming supplies and vaccine information, as well as issuing calls for volunteers.
Some of the other organizations supporting the response included: Creative Policy, Proyecto Teatro, the Austin Fire Fighters Association, American Red Cross, Austin Disaster Relief Network, Austin Youth Collaborative, The Other Ones Foundation, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), Community First! Village, Urban Alchemy and others.
The response included support from multiple City departments and government agencies, including Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Public Libraries, Austin Public Health including its Homeless Strategy Division, Communications and Public Information Office, City Manager's Office, Development Services, Downtown Austin Community Court, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Human Resources, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Austin Police Department, Austin 3-1-1, Austin Energy, Resilience Office, Sustainability Office, Equity Office, Travis County, Travis County Sherriff's Office, and others.
The City will continue to work closely with community groups to further improve shelter response, outreach, and coordination of resources as part of broader efforts to address homelessness and strengthen community resilience.
To track future Cold Weather Shelter activations, the public can routinely call the Cold Weather Shelter Hotline at 512-305-4233.