The Austin Public Health Homeless Strategy Division unveiled a new text message alert system on October 25, 2023, aimed at providing crucial information to people experiencing homelessness in the city. This initiative allows unhoused individuals to receive timely updates and urgent information directly on their cell phones.
The inaugural alerts, sent to over 3,500 unhoused residents, were in preparation for last week's heavy rainfall and the forecasted 40-degree temperature drop. Adrienne Sturrup, the Director of Austin Public Health, emphasized the importance of these emergency weather text alerts, stating they can be life-saving, especially when facing severe weather conditions.
The Homeless Strategy Division will utilize this new communication channel to keep vulnerable community members informed during various circumstances, such as flood events, seasonal wildfire risks, summer heat advisories, and winter storms.
David Gray, the Interim Homeless Strategy Officer, highlighted the significance of these alerts, showing the power of technology and community support in providing a lifeline to those in need during times of crisis.
The Homeless Strategy Division plans to expand the use of technology to deliver messages about essential services, such as monthly Pop-Up Resource Clinics and cold weather shelter activations.
Charles Loosen, the Homeless Strategy Division Community Engagement Consultant, explained that two-way communication capabilities would be crucial during significant events, improving situational awareness and prioritized response to unhoused residents when in-person welfare checks are limited.
In the near future, an educational campaign will be launched to encourage unhoused Austinites with mobile phones to subscribe to the homeless alerts service via a QR code on flyers provided by outreach teams.
This initiative builds on Austin Public Health's successful use of mass text messaging notifications during the city's COVID-19 response, proving that text messages are an efficient, unobtrusive, and cost-effective way to provide critical information to the community.
The development of the new alert service was made possible through the collaboration of Austin Public Health Information Technology, the City's Watershed Protection Department, and various 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.