Fort Worth is opening as many as three emergency homeless shelters to provide beds during this week’s cold weather as traditional shelters are at limited capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"That's my major concern. We hope nobody freezes to death,” said Lauren King, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. "Our community is committed to providing shelter for everyone so we are not going to leave people out in the cold even if the shelters are full. We'll figure out something as a community."
King said Fort Worth plans to open one extra shelter at a time until each fills up, and Arlington also plans to add additional capacity.
At the Presbyterian Night Shelter, beds are now spread out six feet apart, which means a lot fewer of them.
"COVID has had a dramatic impact on everything we do,” said Presbyterian CEO Toby Owen. “Back in March, we had to reduce our men's capacity by 50% and women's capacity by about 30%. We were in a position we've never had to do before. We had to turn people away because of space."
Capacity has increased a little since then, but it's still a challenge.
Homeless people are just starting to get vaccinated, and Owen said his clients’ rate of infection is actually lower than the rest of the population.
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"We're beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
But for now, capacity remains limited.
"There's never an easy time to be homeless,” Owen said. “It's a difficult lifestyle. But I can tell you during COVID-19 it's been unbearable for so many people. When you add COVID-19 plus the cold weather, it makes it very, very challenging."