City of Austin utilizes new text alert system for homeless ahead of severe weather

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Severe weather moving through Austin overnight Friday into Saturday could be particularly dangerous for people living outside.

The City of Austin used its text messaging system Friday to warn people who are homeless of that severe weather threat in both English and Spanish. That’s a new tool the Homeless Strategy Office took over this year.

“When we have extreme temperatures or when the National Weather Service puts out a weather advisory, we take that as a strong indicator that we need to let our population know what’s going on so that they can keep themselves safe,” said Chief Homeless Strategy Officer David Gray.

Gray said they get people connected to that text line at Austin shelters, including at the Marshalling Yard and overnight cold weather shelters. The response has been surprising, he said.

“When we first launched this tool, we thought that we’re gonna have low levels of enrollment, and so there was one platform that we were using, that we thought was great. But because we saw so much uptake, we have to switch platforms,” Gray said.

He told us the City of Austin and its partners are doing outreach in-person Friday too, trying to let people know what could come. But there also aren’t many options in terms of getting people out of the elements.

“Unfortunately, our shelters are almost fully utilized tonight. And so a lot of our outreach is around raising awareness and educating people and making sure that they’re able to take precautions to hunker down in their locations for tonight,” Gray said.

The CEO and Founder of WeCanNow, a nonprofit that does some of that outreach, said even that can be easier said than done because of the city’s camping ban.

“It’s very difficult, you know, Proposition B, in effect has a lot of people experiencing homelessness, just moving on a constant basis. So just to be able to locate people experiencing homelessness, to let them know where the resources are or even what weather is to come,” Antony Jackson said.

Friday night’s severe weather does not trigger the City of Austin’s overnight shelters to open. That requires much colder temperatures at or near freezing.

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