Austin homeless shelters preparing for coldest temperatures in decades

With weekend temperatures in Austin expected to be lower than they have been in decades, homeless advocates are hoping people living outside will seek shelter. 

An arctic blast reaching all the way down to Texas could drop Austin temperatures into the teens Sunday. 

"The air mask is a mighty cold one, coldest we've seen here in roughly 30 plus years," said FOX 7 Austin chief meteorologist Scott Fisher.


The freezing temperatures won't be short-lived either. "I think the biggest takeaway of this is the length of time we could potentially be at or below freezing. We're talking, not a couple of hours or an overnight period, it may be a day, day and a half, two days of 32-degree weather or colder in Austin," Fisher said. 

"It's gonna be very dangerous this week once that cold front comes through," said Jason Whaley, communications manager for the Salvation Army Austin area command. 

The danger applies to outdoor pipes, plants, pets, and people, all of which could potentially freeze. 

"This is going to be many, many hours of at or below freezing. And you really need to have some sort of heat source to stay safe and stay healthy in this environment," Fisher said. 


For Austin's homeless population, the warning is dire. 

"We're talking hypothermia quickly setting in with these types of frigid temperatures. And, of course, our fear always at the Salvation Army is people that are out on the streets, don't have adequate clothing, don't have adequate blankets and that's why we encourage everybody to come seek shelter," said Whaley. 

Usually, the Salvation Army will outreach to the homeless population before a freeze gets to the Austin area. With COVID-19 concerns that's not happening in quite the same way. That worries Salvation Army leaders who fear some people may try to tough it out on the street thinking this is like any other cold front in Austin. 

"This is going to be kind of new for Austin, since we've never seen, or we haven't seen these types of temperatures over an extended period like this in a long time," Whaley said. 

The Salvation Army staff say no one will be turned away once temperatures drop below freezing and they will have safety measures in place to protect against a spread of COVID-19.