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How people are helping the homeless in the extreme cold

With freezing temps and "feels-like" temperatures below zero, service providers are making sure the homeless are sheltered. There are ways you can help too.

AUSTIN, Texas — Homeless service providers are really stepping up to try to get people to go to shelters.

Solid Ground Ministry, who typically operates out of Texas Oaks Baptist Church in South Austin, turned that church into a 24/7 shelter over the weekend.  

Credit: Solid Ground Ministries

On Monday around 2 a.m., like many Central Texans, the church lost power. 

Deborah Fisher, the president and co-founder of Solid Ground Ministry, said other service providers, like Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center and Lighter Loads ATX, she offered to help by bringing generators or food and coffee to keep folks at the church warm. 

"We have around-the-clock volunteers who are staying there, preparing food, making sure everybody is warm, able to sleep," said Fisher. 

She said there is a silver lining to the snow, seeing people's compassion for each other. 

"As unfortunate as the situation is and as dangerous as the situation is, it's been a very sweet time that we all get to spend together, which is kind of cool," said Fisher with a smile. "So the volunteers are exhausted. Everybody is kind of worried about any dangerous stuff that's around the area, of course, and accidents and things of that nature. And so everybody's kind of tense and uptight. But at the same time, it's being described as a very big lock-in or sleepover at the at the church."

The City of Austin also opened its cold weather shelters 24/7. 

Anyone needing shelter can report to the Palmer Event Center for services. As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, there were more than 400 people at the Palmer Event Center warming center and around 190 people in shelters. 

"You know, we have PPE there, hand sanitizer and things like that for those that arrive, if they don't have those kind of things," said Bryce Bencivengo, the communications manager for the City of Austin's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "The message for the community is this is a very serious situation. We have more than 200,000 customers without power. Many of them have been without power nearing 20 hours and the temperatures are extremely cold. We need the public who does have power to conserve as much as possible to do everything that they can to lower their energy usage."

Families with children may arrive at the Downtown Salvation Army Shelter. 

Here are some other ways providers are helping:

  • 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 their 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 volutary 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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