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'A life-or-death situation': Homeless service providers drive into camps, raise money for hotel stays

Some homeless service providers took a boots-on-the-ground approach to keeping people safe. They drove into camps and got people out of the cold and into hotels.

AUSTIN, Texas — Over the weekend and on Monday, homeless service providers hit the streets and headed into camps to get people who are homeless into some kind of shelter. 

Credit: Leah Hargrave

"I honestly don't think it's survivable. One guy that I put into a motel yesterday went back to his camp to get some of his stuff, and he got stranded in the snow at about 2 a.m. this morning. He called me at eight o'clock this morning, almost frozen, to come and pick him up and rescue him. So he could hardly move his hands and he was just desperate," said Leah Hargrave, the director of Mosaic Street Ministry. "So I really don't think you can live outside and survive this cold. I've only had one person today turn me down for shelter. Every single person knows that they need to get inside. It's a life-or-death situation right now."

Hargrave said Mosaic Street Ministry partnered with Maximizing Hope and Better Together to help get people out of camps and into hotels for the week, raising tens of thousands of dollars. As of Wednesday evening, it had raised more than $60,000 in its "Provide Warmth" fundraiser

Credit: Leah Hargrave

KVUE Molly Oak spoke with Hargrave on Monday from her car before she headed into more camps. 

"We've gotten over 200 people in 100 hotel rooms, and today we've taken in another 18 or so, and I'm still rolling down my window when I pull up on people on the street and asking them if they need a hotel room," said Hargrave on Monday afternoon. "So that number's going to grow because I'm still grabbing people off the streets today."

Credit: Leah Hargrave

Hargrave said Mosaic Street Ministry has also been working with Mobile Loaves and Fishes and Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center.

Mark Hilbelink, the director of Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, was out looking for people on Sunday night too.

"We probably found almost three dozen people just in South Park Meadows and very few people had heard about the shelter because they're so far flung," Hilbelink said. 

Hilbelink explained some people had no idea the City's cold weather shelters were open, others had no way to get there and many were concerned if they went, all their things would be stolen – just to name a few of the issues. 

He echoed Hargrave's concerns regarding how dangerous it is for folks to be outside, saying that's true regardless of how hot or cold it is outside. 

"It's a good reminder for all of us who are not homeless that homelessness is fundamentally a humanitarian issue and not a political issue," said Hilbelink. "And we all remember that when it's 6 degrees outside. But can we still remember that when it's normal temperatures?"

Credit: Leah Hargrave

On Wednesday, Hargrave said the three hotels the folks are staying at have lost power. She said they've shifted to getting people blankets, coats and hot chocolate in hopes of keeping people warm.  

Here are some other ways providers are helping and how you can help too:

  • Austin Area Urban League launched the #LoveThyNeighborTX campaign and raised $17,000 in 12 hours to help unhoused folks.
  • Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center has been distributing coats, sleeping bags and other cold-weather gear all weekend and can take donations. Providers have also been going into camps to find people and get them shelter or information on how and where to find shelter.
  • Maximizing Hope is raising money to get people into hotels for the next few nights. 
  • Mobile Loaves and Fishes got out with food trucks and volunteers to assist in getting the word out and provide transportation to warming centers.
  • CapMetro stopped collecting fares so people could get to warming centers regardless of whether they could pay (before suspending services altogether on Monday).
  • The Other Ones Foundation opened up a limited-capacity indoor shelter at the state-sanctioned site and shuttled people to the City’s shelter.
  • Austin Mutual Aid distributed cold-weather supplies over the weekend and raised money to get people into hotel rooms. 
  • Front Steps is collecting blankets to distribute.
  • Austin's Free Lunch program is accepting donations to make sure people experiencing homelessness have access to a home-cooked meal. Free Lunch delivered soup to residents of the Esperanza Community on Sunday.
  • Austin Pets Alive! is accepting donated items like animal crates, blankets, dog houses, dog beds, tarps, towels and space heaters. The shelter is also accepting donations to purchase necessary items and assistance in picking up and distributing supplies.
  • For other ways to get involved, click here. The link includes cold weather-specific donations and a needs wish list from ECHO, with items like sleeping bags and tents.

If you are in need of food in the coming days, you are encouraged to dial 211 or visit 211texas.org to get in contact with Texas Health and Human Services, which should be able to connect you with a wide range of services. If you are without a place to stay, call 512-305-ICEE to get the most up-to-date information about warming and cold weather shelters.

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