With Temperatures Down, Texas Homeless Shelter Populations Are Up

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 3, 2018 12:00 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials say they are closely monitoring a hunger strike at a prison in north Texas.

The strike at the Allred Unit in Iowa Park reportedly began nine days ago, and originally involved 45 inmates in administrative segregation.

That number has since dropped to 37.

A spokesperson for the department said that the inmates have complained about food, recreation time, and temperatures.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Allred Unit houses one of TDCJ’s largest administrative segregation populations. It’s similar to solitary confinement, and it’s used for inmates considered a security risk, or a danger to others.

The TDCJ ended the use of solitary confinement as punishment last year.
The spokesperson said the department will “take appropriate action as needed,” but did not provide further details.

With virtually no part of the state left untouched by frigid temperatures, many have taken precautions to protect from the cold. One population that’s particularly at risk: the homeless.

Sub-freezing temperatures are suspected to have been responsible for the deaths of two homeless individuals in Houston Tuesday morning. And when the temperatures drop, shelters have their work cut out for them.

“There have been an increase in the number of individuals coming to us for shelter. Probably double,” says Trey Nichols, director of shelter for Front Steps, which operates the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

He says that during cold snaps like this one, they have to activate emergency cold weather shelters to keep up with demand. That means collaboration between local churches, the city, and volunteers from homeless advocacy groups.

“All the churches will select a day they are able to provide shelter in the event that we activate, the city will open one of their recreation centers and either Salvation Army or Front Steps will help staff it,” he says.

Nichols says outreach is key – letting the homeless population know that there is shelter available when temperatures dip dangerously low.

“We as an agency outreach our building but if you see somebody and you know its going to be cold, I would direct them to us,” he says.

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night in Texas is estimated to be over 23,000 people.

That’s about four percent of the country’s total homeless population.

After being closed for more than a year, a historic lighthouse in South Texas is once again open to the public. The Port Isabel Lighthouse was closed in October 2016 for renovations.

“It is a historic structure, it’s 165 years old, so from some time to time it needs maintenance of one sort or another,” says Valerie Bates with the city of Port Isabel.

She says that the railing at the top of the tourist attraction had deteriorated and was in need of repair.

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, which owns the lighthouse and adjacent keeper’s house, spent more than $600,000 for the update.

The Port Isabel Lighthouse is one of 16 remaining historic lighthouses that dot the Texas Gulf Coast.

It’s also the only one open to visitors.