Warnings of extreme weather are a top priority
By Brant Bingamon, 5:15PM, Tue. Oct. 31, 2023
Unhoused Austinites try to stay warm at Hungry Hill Foundation on December 23, 2022 (Photo by John Anderson)
The city of Austin launched a new text message system on Wednesday, October 25, that will let people experiencing homelessness receive urgent information on their cell phones.
Austin Public Health’s Homeless Strategy Division sent inaugural texts to over 3,500 unhoused residents last week, warning them about the heavy rainfall and plummeting temperatures that began Sunday night.
The new text messaging system will be extremely helpful in alerting homeless residents to abrupt weather changes this winter, officials say. “Emergency weather text alerts are not only vital but can be the difference between life and death for individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Adrienne Sturrup, Austin Public Health director. “When a storm, extreme cold, or sweltering heat strikes, a simple text message can mean the opportunity to find shelter, access warming centers, or be aware of life-threatening conditions.”
Austin Public Health began communicating via mass texts early in the COVID-19 crisis. The texts proved to be an efficient, cost-effective means of sharing vaccine appointment reminders and other advice with Austin residents. The Homeless Strategy Division has since established a direct connection to thousands of vulnerable community members to continue the outreach.
“These messages to people experiencing homelessness exemplify the power of technology and community spirit to provide a lifeline and hope,” said David Gray, interim homeless strategy officer. “It demonstrates that we, as a community, are committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us during times of crisis.”
Gray said the Homeless Strategy Division will soon launch an educational campaign to reach more unhoused Austinites with mobile phones. Outreach teams will be equipped with flyers that contain a QR code for a quick subscription to the homeless alerts service. More generally, the city encourages all residents, regardless of housing status, to sign up for Warn Central Texas emergency notifications at www.warncentraltexas.org.
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