AUSTIN, Texas - Monday the City of Austin opened its cold weather shelters for the first time this season. As COVID-19 cases climb, officials hope those who need the shelters will use them.
“We’ve been, for eight, nine months telling people not to gather. Not to go into places with people they don’t live with,” said Bryce Bencivengo, with the City’s office of homeland security and emergency management.
Bencivengo worries COVID-19 could deter those who need shelter from taking it. “If you’ve been through this before you may have a memory of being on a bus with a lot of other people and then being in a space where a lot of people were congregating, that’s gonna be different.
This year cold weather shelters will operate out of city recreation facilities, not churches.
City emergency management, library, parks, and recreation employees will staff the facilities -- not church volunteers. Austin Police officers will be in charge of security.
Bencivengo says the decision to use city employees instead of volunteers was made because volunteers are “traditionally older parishioners or older members of the congregation. Those who are, you know, currently at higher risk for complications of COVID-19.”
During intake, everyone will be screened and have their temperature checked. Those who are flagged will be sent to a City isolation facility.
Masks will be provided to those seeking shelter, and beds will be spaced out. Social distancing will also be implemented on the CapMetro bus rides to the shelters.
“If you need this, we want it to be available to you. We’ll do everything we can to make it as safe as possible,” said Bencivengo.