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Austin's Homeless Get Help During Cold Snap

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Photo by dground http://www.flickr.com/photos/dground/

An emergency program to provide homeless people with a warm place to sleep was activated this week as temperatures plummeted below freezing and shelters approached maximum capacity.

When the weather dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit – or 35 degrees with extenuating circumstances (extreme wind or rain, for example) – the cold weather shelter system is activated. It was put into effect the last two nights, and will be activated again tonight, with temperatures forecast to drop to 30 degrees.

It all starts with a lottery at 5:15 p.m. today outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), a mens-only shelter at the corner of East Seventh and Neches Streets downtown. Numbers are drawn from a bucket to allocate sleeping spaces inside a local church. The men are transported to the church by Capital Metro bus.

Then at 6:15 p.m., a second lottery is held for spaces inside the ARCH. The shelter has about 215 beds, but about 150 are reserved for homeless men on long-term transitional programs. That leaves about 65 spaces open in the lottery.

Homeless women are offered shelter in the Salvation Army building one block from the ARCH. If the Salvation Army runs out of space, homeless women are placed in a church downtown.

When the entire process is over, if there are still homeless people without a place to sleep, the city will use a recreation center as a shelter.

Front Steps, the non-profit organization that manages the ARCH, tries to leave extra spots open at the downtown shelter in case anyone shows up later in the evening looking to escape the cold.

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