Here’s how COVID-19 has impacted Austin Street Center in Dallas
In moving from an overnight home to 24/7 operation, Austin Street Center reaffirmed its mission to help customers stabilize their lives.
DALLAS – On a typical afternoon outside Austin Street Center a few years ago, people lined the sidewalks of Hickory Street. Garbage bags hung over their shoulders, handcrafted luggage on wheels behind them. At around two in the afternoon, they gathered and waited for a place to sleep that night.
Although most of the same people took shelter there every night, it was a “jolt from one day to the next”. They checked in every afternoon, got one of nearly four hundred beds, unpacked their necessities, looked for sleep, and had to leave the next morning.
Austin Street was an overnight emergency shelter.
Now it is an emergency shelter for 24 hours a day. Customers receive three meals a day instead of one. They have a transport connection, “The Connector”, to bring them to daily appointments. You have local health care.
Many of these services were planned or in place when COVID-19 happened, but the crisis has trapped them in the system.
“It’s like being hit on the head by a two-by-four, having a monster energy drink to recover, and then having to do it all over again,” said Dan Roby, CEO of Austin Street.
Roby, 42, is a hoarse guy with a quick smile. He was named Nonprofit CEO of the Pre-Pandemic Year. Even so, COVID was still a jolt to him and ASC, which has more homeless people under one roof than any other place in Dallas.
“It’s changed a lot. How do you support your employees safely? Are you making sure you are deploying the right security measures for your customers without neglecting our mission? At the same time we made sure that the money didn’t run dry, “said Roby.” We have fundamentally changed our entire model. “
First of all, the shelter had to build barriers against the virus. Social distancing, masking, disinfection – it all had to be applied to a customer base whose age and lifestyle made it one of the most susceptible to the disease.
The tests had to be initiated but are far too expensive to run on a weekly basis. Customers are monitored and patients with elevated temperatures are quarantined on site and referred to third parties if their symptoms worsen.
The single-story, warehouse-like structure, which used to be a sea of beds, has been divided into cabins. However, more space per person meant a reduction in the number of beds. Austin Street now has 250 beds, down from 391.
“Now you have a bed until you go,” says Roby, noting that the goal is not to create permanent residence but to get customers on the way to buying their own homes.
There is an on-site medical relief program, a partnership with Texas Health Resources that offers a full-time nurse and regular visits from a doctor. It was in the works before the pandemic but is now built into ASC.
Historically, one of a homeless person’s health indexes, how often he or she visits an emergency room, has been an expensive and inefficient way to provide health care. Having a nurse in the building alleviates this problem.
In the transition from an overnight home to a 24/7 operation, ASC took the opportunity to consolidate its mission: not to be a “homeless shelter” but to focus more on helping customers find a job and stabilizing their lives and find a place to live.
The number of case managers helping clients achieve this goal has doubled from four to eight case managers since 2018. This year the center hopes to house 407 people, which has increased fivefold in the past six years.
“I was really blown away by the fact that we had fifteen people staying in December,” says Roby. “We had people on Christmas Day, new employees, who helped people bring their things to their new apartment and give them their keys. The team here is incredibly dedicated and doing a great job. And I’m in awe of them every day I’m here. “