Within the next few days, all of Texas will experience temperatures that drop to below freezing. Amid concerns of power outages, policy makers are also making preparations for the thousands of unhoused people across the state.
Kyle Taylor – a member of the Irving City Council and the CEO of Irving Cares, a nonprofit serving the DFW area – joined the Texas Standard to talk about how his community is responding.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: I think most people intuitively know that the homeless population is especially at risk when it comes to extreme weather. But could you say a little bit about what these events look like for you?
Kyle Taylor: We’re trying to do what we can to get in front of those folks that are on the street – our residents and neighbors that are on the streets – and let them know where the inclement weather shelter is, let them know where they’re safe, places for them to go to get out of the weather. Also making sure that they have blankets, coats, hats, gloves, those sort of things to make sure that they can get through the night. So it’s just kind of a mad scramble of a lot of really good, smart people trying to come up to make sure those folks are taken care of.
I know that some people are reluctant to go to shelters, and some people insist on trying to stay out and ride this thing through. But we’re talking about conditions that could expose people to hypothermia, and frostbite if the wind picks up, as some forecasters are fearful of. What about those folks? Are you basically going down the street trying to find people who appear to be experiencing homelessness, or how do you find these folks?
So we kind of have a multi-lane approach here in Irving where we have signs that we set out across the city or the inclement weather shelter with a phone number and QPR code. We work with our police and our fire department and other nonprofit agencies to kind of go out and have conversations with folks and let them know. We start early with this when we’re doing our evening feedings and feeding the homeless, letting them know this is where we’re going to be. Then we get in the vans and we drive the street and we pick them up.
You are going to have some folks that don’t want to go to shelters because of bad experiences in shelters. So working with the NPOs and the folks that work with our road warriors on a regular basis helps to build that trust. And it makes it a little bit easier for us to get them to shelters. But there are some that just will not go to a shelter. And if they won’t, that’s where you come in with the blankets, the gloves, giving them some food and making sure that you know their location so police and fire can drop by and check on them and make sure that they’re okay.
It sounds like you folks have something rather coordinated already in place to try to deal with this situation. I know you work both in the nonprofit world and on City Council. And I’m wondering if there’s something that local governments might be able to learn from the way you all have approached it? Or could you say something about the obstacles to trying to set up this coordinated system that you have?
Yeah, it’s making sure that the city and your emergency response teams, your public safety folks, and especially at the council and your leadership level – they understand the importance that these are our folks. You know, they need help just as much as anybody else does. You know, your parks and recs department – as far as opening up rec centers – we have a bunch of overflow as a place to get them out of the elements if we need to.
But it has to be a coordinated effort. There has to be buy-in from the city as a partner, not someone who’s completely running this thing, because between you and me, government has a real hard time running social programs in an effective way. They need to be a partnership with that and then get your NPOs, your faith-based groups and your volunteers to kind of head everything up and just have your city and municipality come in as a partner.
I know that many people are wondering what they can do to help their fellow Texans make it through this cold snap. Any thoughts you can share?
Yes, a lot of local cities have sister agencies like Irving Cares. Find out where that is. Coats, blankets, cash are always important. Also, most of your inclement weather shelters are going to be open all the way through Christmas – it’s a great place to volunteer. It’s a great place to go back and help cook or serve a meal, play a game with somebody, read a book with the kids, build toys. So look at your faith- based organizations. A lot of municipalities have a list of agencies that are doing something and working on that. Start local. That’s where you make your biggest impact.