AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County EMS’ community health paramedics were out Thursday tracking down people without a warm place to sleep as a strong Arctic cold front dropped temperatures well into freezing.
The paramedics were bringing people to One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road, where they were checked in and taken to one of several overnight shelters. People who need a place to stay have a two-hour window — between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. — to get checked in.
Despite the window, once the cold front rolled in people started showing up. But not everyone experiencing homelessness in this city felt comfortable.
“I have a felony. It’s from ten years ago. But they won’t let us get an apartment. That’s why we’re out here,” Don Williams, a man experiencing homelessness, told us. He is living in a tent near Highway 290 and South Lamar.
“Frostbite is definitely a concern. Hypothermia is definitely a concern,” Stephen White, division chief of Integrated Services, said. White noted even just a few hours after the cold front rolled in Thursday, Austin-Travis County had already taken calls for hypothermia.
Williams was worried about all of those things, but more worried he and his wife would be split up if they do seek help, which he said has happened to him before. The city says pets and families are allowed at the overnight shelters.
“If we get separated for anything one us will lose it,” Williams said.
That’s why he plans to ride the night out in his tent, and he’s not alone. ATCEMS expects to respond to an increasing number of 911 calls Thursday night as temperatures continue to drop. For calls that aren’t medical emergencies, they’ll lean on their community health paramedics and collaborative care communication center.
“These paramedics are highly trained to offer alternative solutions where maybe an emergency room would not be the best option for them,” Williams said. “People tend to need medical assistance at a higher volume when it gets cold. If these community health paramedics can take a little bit of that burden off of the transport ambulances, that makes a huge difference.”
A summer estimate from Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) showed more than 4,000 people experience homelessness in our city on any given night. Not all of those people will make it to shelter during this cold snap.
“We are people out here, just like they are. Just because we don’t have money, a bunch of money or fame. We’re still people,” Williams said.
Through the weekend, anyone looking for overnight shelter can go to the One Texas Center on Barton Springs between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.