Anticipating freezing temperatures that can have a deadly impact on people experiencing homelessness, the city of Austin activated its overnight cold weather shelters Friday.
The city's Homeless Strategy Office determines when it will open shelters on a day-to-day basis during periods of cold weather, using National Weather Service projections for its Camp Mabry location in West Austin. It activates shelters when the temperature is predicted to reach 32 degrees or colder overnight, 35 degrees or colder overnight with precipitation, or 35 degrees or colder overnight with wind chill of 32 or colder.
The city shared its plans to community partners who work directly with Austin’s unsheltered population and texted information directly to unsheltered individuals who are registered with the city’s recently launched text alert system.
The city instituted its cold-weather shelter program the year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, when community-operated shelters were unable to handle the increased number of people needing shelter during cold snaps. The city sheltered more than 2,000 people on a total of 17 nights in 2023.
The Austin City Council approved of a contract with the Austin Area Urban League to provide shelter operations during cold weather activation periods this year and is set to assume full responsibility this winter.
Although cold-weather shelters are used primarily by people experiencing homelessness, they are available to anyone who needs a warm place to spend the night. City facilities such as public libraries and recreation centers are used as warming centers during regular business hours.
In the case of a more widespread winter weather emergency during which there are extensive power outages or basic cold-weather shelter capacity is exhausted, the city’s emergency disaster shelters would be activated.
Since shelters are largely used by individuals experiencing homelessness, the city does not list the locations. Registration for shelters is at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, reachable by several Cap Metro bus lines. Cap Metro partners with the city to transport anyone seeking a cold weather shelter who does not have the means to pay the fare from One Texas Center to a shelter location.