Austin City Council passed a resolution on February 10th to improve the city’s cold weather shelter program for people in extreme weather conditions and possibly expand it.
The current Austin cold weather shelter system relies on a single intake point, which proved to be too centralized, according to Sasha Rose, an organizer with Austin Mutual Aid. She criticized City Manager Spencer Cronk for not showing up at meetings and not interacting with the community. The approval for the city’s cold weather shelter expansion came after criticism from residents and council members about the city’s handling of power outages. Thousands of customers were without power for a week. Some of the emergency shelters also lost power and refused people.
The city’s cold weather shelter program has been informal for the past 20 years, relying on homeless service providers and churches. In recent years, the city has tried to take the lead in formalizing the program. However, the system struggled to maintain a cohesive communication strategy with partners or people in need of shelter. The cold weather shelter program also faced gaps in the system, as highlighted by the freeze early last year and another just before the year’s end.
According to the Texas Tribune, activists and volunteers working with homeless people said that while the city improved its communication during the recent storm, cold weather shelters, and warming centers were hard to access. It did not have provisions for a family with kids and was unprepared for power outages.
The resolution also included banning scheduled encampment clearings before and after shelters open, expanding the operating hours of cold weather shelters, and setting up a shelter in Del Valle. The Council also passed another item to audit Austin Energy’s response to last week’s storm, focusing on vegetation management around power lines.
According to CBS Austin, Cold Weather Shelters are open to anyone who needs a warm place to stay, not just those who are homeless. To find out how to access them, people can call the Cold Weather Shelter Hotline at 512-305-ICEE (4233). To register for shelter, individuals must go to One Texas Center (OTC), 505 Barton Springs Road between 6 and 8 p.m. CapMetro provides transportation from OTC to the Cold Weather Shelters, and in the morning, buses transport individuals leaving the shelters to the downtown area.