FORT WORTH, Texas - As temperatures drop, the city of Fort Worth is making plans for how to shelter the homeless during the cold winter months while keeping COVID-19 safety protocols in mind.
The city has a plan to shelter around 200 if needed in various community centers to be used as overflow shelters.
Sheltering the homeless in cold weather will look different this year during a pandemic. Those hoping to use a city shelter in cold weather will have to be screened for COVID-19.
The city will screen people for COVID-19 at 1100 East Lancaster first, which is just southeast of downtown, and then direct people to overflow shelters at sites like Sycamore and Riverside community centers.
Each site will have a more limited capacity to allow for physical distancing.
In the past, the city also provided shuttles to get people to the shelters. But this year during the pandemic, the city will provide free bus passes instead.
“Next week it might be 100 degrees, and the following it might be 5. So we have to be forward-thinking of this,” said Fort Worth City Councilmember Kelly Allen Gray.
Some on the Fort Worth City Council say some residents they’ve been hearing from are against using community centers as temporary overflow shelters.
“It’s not being against homelessness,” said Fort Worth Councilmember Cary Moon. “It’s staff, mayor and council wonder why folks in East Fort Worth feel like they’re being dumped on. This is why.”
“The fact is this will probably only be activated for less than 30 days during the time period,” said Fort Worth Councilmember Ann Zadeh. “Looking at these locations being adjacent to transportation is important.”
The city has had experience running a shelter under similar circumstances. opening up the convention center earlier this year as an overflow shelter during the pandemic.
“I think COVID-19 has taught us we can do this,” said Fort Worth Councilmember Gyna Bivens. “When we took a look at the convention center, people were quite fearful initially, but that too is passing. We’re here to help, and I hope that we can do that and treat people with dignity and help them move forward with a better phase in life.”
The cold weather plan will be activated when the temperature hits below 40 degrees in wet conditions, below 35 in dry conditions or if the wind-chill is below freezing. The city says they will not use these sites to shelter homeless from the cold past March.