City of AustinFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Austin Public Health Homeless Strategy Division launched a new text message alert system on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. The City of Austin’s new communication capabilities will enable people experiencing homelessness to receive urgent information and timely updates directly on their cell phones. The inaugural alerts were sent to over 3,500 unhoused residents in preparation for last week’s heavy rainfall and the upcoming forecast of a 40-degree temperature plummet.
“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. “These alerts serve as their first line of defense against the unforgiving forces of nature. When a storm, extreme cold, or sweltering heat strike, a simple text message can mean the opportunity to find shelter, access warming centers, or be aware of life-threatening conditions.”
The Homeless Strategy Division has now established a direct connection with thousands of vulnerable community members. Crucial preparedness guidance will be disseminated via text message to those experiencing homelessness during a variety of circumstances including flood events, elevated seasonal wildfire risk, summer heat advisories, and winter storms.
“The importance of emergency text alerts for individuals experiencing homelessness cannot be overstated,” said David Gray, Interim Homeless Strategy Officer. “Tailoring these messages to people experiencing homelessness exemplifies the power of technology and community spirit to provide a lifeline and hope when it is needed most. It demonstrates that we, as a community, are committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us during times of crisis.”
The Homeless Strategy Division intends to quickly expand the use of technology solutions to deliver messages to unhoused residents about lifeline services like monthly Pop-Up Resource Clinics hosted by Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, cold weather shelter activations, and more.
“Importantly, during a significant event that limits the City of Austin’s capacity to provide in-person welfare checks to a multitude of unhoused residents, two-way communication capabilities can be activated to support remote engagement, improved situational awareness, and prioritized response,” said Charles Loosen, Homeless Strategy Division Community Engagement Consultant.
The Homeless Strategy Division will soon launch an educational campaign focused on enrolling unhoused Austinites who have mobile phones to receive text notifications. Outreach teams will be equipped with flyers that contain a QR code for a fast and easy subscription to the homeless alerts service.
Austin Public Health began using mass text messaging notifications early in the City’s COVID-19 response. Text messages proved to be an efficient, unobtrusive, and cost-effective means of sharing vaccine appointment reminders and other relevant advice with Austin area residents.
The development of this new alert service was supported by Austin Public Health Information Technology, the City’s Watershed Protection Department, and a variety of community partners.
The homeless alert system is intended for a specific and highly vulnerable population with unique needs. The City of Austin encourages all residents – regardless of housing status – to sign up for Warn Central Texas emergency notifications www.warncentraltexas.org.
To learn more about homelessness in Austin, please visit www.austintexas.gov/homelessness.