Hundreds stay at Austin cold weather shelters, priest offers help to people experiencing homelessness

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The temperature was in the teens when we pulled up to an encampment under the 183 overpass on Monday.

“This looks abandoned,” said Billy Tweedie, who is priest at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Crestview. Tweedie was looking for people experiencing homelessness to offer them shelter during the bitter cold. In the past he’s used his church’s Parish Hall to do so.

“Anyone need shelter or warmth?” he called out, walking along under the overpass.

However, hardly anyone appeared to be there. One person popped their head out of a tent, but declined Tweedie’s offer for a place to stay.

“Some people are refusing, and they’re here to protect,” Tweedie commented.

The city of Austin said a Public Safety Task Force visited nearly 45 encampments about the option for shelter on Sunday night. A spokesperson said the city’s Emergency Operations Center has been sending daily texts about weather conditions and shelter operations through its Homeless Text Alert System, which the city said reaches more than 500 phone numbers.

As of Sunday night, the spokesperson said there were 282 people staying across four shelter locations around the city. By Tuesday, the city said there were more than 550 people in the shelters, including close to 70 people at three rec centers and more than 350 people at the Palmer Events Center.

People can register for shelter at the Palmer Events Center, which the city calls a “warming center” to provide relief from the cold. Partnering with Capital Metro, the city said it’s arranging rides, shelter registration and sheltering locations.

District 9 council member Kathie Tovo said in addition to the city-operated sites, she knows of some churches and AISD campuses opening up.   

“It is very important to continue to spread the word that the temperatures ahead of us are going to be very cold and it’s really critical people seek shelter,” Tovo said.

At registration for city sites, the city spokesperson said people receive a health screening prior to being transferred to a shelter. She added that anyone who shows signs of COVID-19 is referred to the city’s Isolation Facility, which is a converted hotel.

Tweedie said Monday he planned to come back at sunset and offer them shelter again.

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