North Texas churches, shelters open for second night as temps dip into 20s

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center opened its doors as a shelter for a second night on Tuesday after hundreds flocked to the building to get out of sub-freezing temperatures.

Several other shelters in Dallas said they were over capacity Monday night as temperatures will be in the mid-20s overnight.

The city's temporary shelter at the convention center had 240 beds but welcomed more than 300 people on Monday.

“This is extremely unique, the first time the city is activating an inclement weather shelter,” said Monica Hardman, the Director of Homeless Solutions in Dallas. “On any given night, there are 1,000-2,000 unsheltered. We want to ensure the city could step in and allow for that overflow.”

Those who showed up at the convention center underwent a background check and people with warrants for violent crimes were transported to jail. There were some arrests on Monday after the warrant checks.

The city of Dallas also partners with local shelters to provide a connector transportation service that shuttles people from shelter to shelter for free. That service is new and has been running for almost a month now.

The line for shelter at the convention center was much shorter Tuesday night.

“We hope to get a long term solution soon,” said Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “But right now, we've got to do what we've got to do to protect people.”

Broadnax says the city is working on a potential long term solution to sheltering homeless by adopting a revision to an ordinance that keeps religious organizations from legally opening a temporary homeless shelter.

“It's something that we hope we can get resolved by correcting the ordinance,” he said. “And that's something council will have for consideration over the next few months.”

As the clock crept closer to 5 p.m. Tuesday, dozens of Dallas' homeless gathered outside Our Calling for a chance to sleep inside. Within minutes of opening its doors, the lobby of the nonprofit started to fill up.

At its peak overnight Monday into Tuesday morning, some 300 people sheltered at Our Calling.

Our Calling Executive Director Pastor Wayne Walker expects another rush for Tuesday night.

“We're expecting a lot more tonight just because the second night of the weather people that thought they could tough it out realize, ‘I'm not that tough. I can't handle this.’ And come in,” he sai.d

Using its homeless emergency broadcasting system and bed availability software, the faith-based organization was able to direct homeless residents to shelters with space.

“On top of existing beds in Dallas, it looks like we put about 950 people in additional spaces spread out across the city,” Walker said.

Walker says about 80 percent of the city’s homeless population has a cell phone, so the app is an effective way to communicate.

“We can see their intake,” he said. “You'll see a lot of the numbers are pretty high except Austin Street. They check in earlier in the day.”

Austin Street Shelter has 390 beds and housed more than 400 people Monday night.

“When it's cold, we don't want to turn anyone away, we don't want someone to be out on the streets and then end up in a crisis situation further than they're already in crisis,” said Myrshem George, sr. Director of Advancement, Austin Street Center. “We're typically full 365 days a year. Last night was an exception of course because of the bitter cold. We essentially didn't want anyone out on the streets so anyone that showed up at our doors we allowed them in.”

Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas housed about 80 people Monday. Their doors opened again Tuesday and had crews driving around looking for anyone still out in the cold.

“We hope we're a part of raising the awareness in the city that this is a dangerous time when you live on the streets and the weather gets below freezing and we need to be responsible,” said Cathy Bryan, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church.

Mayor Eric Johnson said he's proud with the way the city and its partners have come together to help the homeless during this time of need. He says there were no reports of any incidents inside the convention center Monday night.

In Fort Worth, more than 130 overflow beds at area shelters were taken.

"At the end of the night, we had still had 60 beds available for men and not as many for women. We had about 6 beds left last night for women,” said Toby Owen, Presbyterian Night Shelter. He said the same emergency plan will be in place for a second night.

While some took advantage of the extra space provided, not everyone chose to come in from the cold. Owen said a second overflow community shelter is not expected to open Tuesday. Owen said there are ways people can help the homeless community with donations.

"There are certain people that will choose to stay outside for a variety of reasons and really the big need we always have is just being able to get as many people in as quickly as possible. Our food bill always goes up during this time,” Owen said. “We're always in need of sheets and blankets during this time, so that's a way certainly the community can help.”

MedStar says it responded to five calls for people dealing with extreme cold exposure. Three of those people had to be transported to local hospitals.