AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a brutal cold front swept into Austin Thursday, people began showing up at the One Texas Center, across the river from downtown Austin. It was the check-in point for Austin’s overnight cold shelters.
On the first night of below freezing temperatures, 431 people were taken to overnight shelters, according to an Austin Public Health spokesperson. Unlike during previous freezes, people will be allowed to stay in those overnight shelters during the day.
But not everyone made it to the shelter, or wanted to go to the shelter. People we talked to at the camp off of Ben White and Victory Drive said they don’t trust the city not to take their pets, separate them and keep their belongings safe — though the city has said they’ve removed those barriers.
“Oh it was brutal last night. We had as much as we could get into one little square space in our tent that is falling apart, has burn holes in it because we have no way to heat ourselves,” a woman who goes by the name Hula Hoops, told us.
ATCEMS said it responded to 17 calls Thursday night for “environmental exposure.” They also transported 28 people and four animals to shelters, they said.
That’s why groups like Austin Mutual Aid and Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, among other response-groups, were gathered at a makeshift command center at St. David’s Episcopal Church downtown.
“People who were sleeping on the ground were found unresponsive last night [Thursday],” said Sasha Rose, director of Austin Mutual Aid.
Allie Roberts, the hotline lead at Sunrise, said they’ve reached roughly 500 people and will continue to make connections overnight.
“This is a gospel calling. This is what we’re here to do, is to raise up the lowly and offer up dignity and respect to every person we meet,” said Revered Kirstin Braun with St. David’s Episcopal Church.
How you can help
These groups said the work is far from done. Even when the city deactivates its overnight shelters, which is expected to happen Christmas Day at 10 a.m., the people in them may have nothing left.
“Many of those people have come from their campsites and aren’t sure if their stuff will be there when they return,” Roberts said.
You can drop donations off at St. David’s Episcopal Church Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The groups are in need of cold weather supplies, including tents, coats, blankets, hats, mittens, face masks, hand warmers and sleeping bags.
You can also walk in and volunteer.
Registration for overnight shelters will again take place Saturday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road. The City of Austin used buses at that location to shelter people from the cold during the day as they wait to be transported.