With the freezing temperatures creeping into the Austin area, many without a home are turning to area shelters to stay warm. “Cold weather can be life threatening for someone who has to sleep outside,” said Jan Gunter with the Salvation Army Austin
The Front Steps Cold Weather Shelter program works with the Austin Regional Center for the Homeless and the Salvation Army to shelter those who need it.
“The city and Cap Metro and APD and a number of churches and nonprofit organizations band together to ensure that no one has to sleep outside in the cold,” Gunter said.
According to a count by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition 2,200 people are in that category.
“If you can imagine what it's like for someone experiencing homelessness at a time like this, the Salvation Army is there for them and we're able to do that because of the support of the community,” said Gunter.
Front Steps helps coordinate with churches in the area to find additional shelters when the weather dips below freezing. In order to get shelter through that program, single men and women meet at the ARCH and are part of a lottery system that determines who is sheltered off-site and who will stay at the ARCH. Families go to the Salvation Army. Those who are picked for the off-site shelters will be bused back and forth.
For information on shelter availability, call the cold weather shelter hotline at 512-305-ICEE (4233).
“For single women that come in, we would have an area where we have mats on the floor and we provide blankets and ensure that they have a warm, cozy place inside to sleep. For families, we would open up our chapel and put mats on the floor there,” Gunter said.
People aren't the only ones in danger when the weather is cold. The Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive are doing what they can to keep animals safe. Austin Pets Alive uses curtains and space heaters to keep the heat in. They say they are in need of foster homes for some large dogs that can't fit in the warmer kennels. They are also asking for donations of blankets and towels to help with the freezing weather. There will be staff on site at APA overnight to monitor the pets.