Days-long cold snap creates scramble for temporary homeless shelters in Dallas

Several Dallas nonprofits said they worked with the city on Wednesday to provide temporary shelter to more than 300 people affected by homelessness as temperatures in northern Texas are expected to hit a 30-year low.

However, they fear the persistently harsh weather could be too taxing without further assistance.

Around 350 people were accommodated in rooms in city hotels, in hotel rooms paid for by at least half a dozen nonprofit organizations and church groups, and in other rooms by service providers.

However, during this cold snap, the city has no plans to open an emergency shelter and is instead working with vendors to help the homeless.

The city has been working with local groups since late last year to provide hotel rooms to people without constant protection when temperatures are in their mid-30s and below. The groups believe demand will increase and continue to be in the hundreds as temperatures remain cold in northern Texas.

“This is usually something we usually do for a day, two, or three days at a time,” said Teresa Thomas, spokeswoman for Austin Street Center, which operates an emergency shelter in south Dallas. “Temperatures won’t break until Wednesday and so we’re really trying to raise our funds to keep this initiative going for as long as possible.”

COVID-19 has limited Dallas’s protective capacity as providers have had to downsize beds to allow social distancing.

In March, the city opened a homeless shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, but it closed five months later. The temporary room averaged 300 people per night.

Since then, the city has bought three hotels with the money from the federal CARES law, which will ultimately become permanent accommodation for people with homelessness.

“We were able to offer our guests more affordable hotel accommodation than continuing to operate the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as a shelter because it was not built for this,” said city spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar.

Austin Street Center, OurCalling, The Stewpot, Union Gospel Mission, and Oak Lawn United Methodist Church are among the groups that pooled money this winter to pay for hotel rooms.

The groups paid for 129 hotel rooms on Wednesday and it typically costs $ 10,000 to $ 15,000 a night, said Wayne Walker, executive director and pastor of OurCalling.

The group acts as a reception center for people seeking refuge and has an app that can be used to notify them when emergency shelters are open. From there, the groups and city staff work together to feed and get people to shelters through the hotels, Austin Street, Union Gospel Mission, and The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

People are given rapid COVID-19 tests at OurCalling. If necessary, they are quarantined in one of the city’s hotels.

OurCalling has also taken people to its downtown headquarters overnight. This is in violation of an ordinance the city passed last year that requires nonprofit organizations, churches and other faith-based religious groups to apply to the city for temporary protection.

Groups less than half a mile from downtown CBD are not eligible to apply, including OurCalling. Groups who violate the law can face a fine of up to $ 2,000 per offense.

Walker said at least 30 people stayed in the OurCalling building overnight on Wednesday and will continue to provide space if necessary.

“We really don’t want to stay open but we have no other option right now,” said Walker.

Nobody has applied to work as an emergency shelter, Cuellar said. But the city currently has no plans to penalize OurCalling, she said.

“The need is too great,” she said.

That came after the city ordered a warehouse in South Dallas of nearly 30 people to move out of vacant lot by last weekend or the property owner faced fines.

On Friday and Monday, 16 people from the camp were accommodated in city hotels. A resident of a German shepherd was given a crate, dog food and had his pet vaccinated by the city, Cuellar said.

Thomas hopes that more resources will be made available to people without constant protection.

“We never do enough when we have people on the street,” she said.

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