Dallas faith groups help shelter homeless Texans during deep frost
(RNS) – Dallas churches and other faith groups have teamed up to help open an emergency warming center for the homeless at the city’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
Frigid temperatures and a rare major snowstorm caused power outages affecting millions of residents of Lone Star State, leaving many without power or heat as temperatures plummeted.
Some communities have urged residents to boil water before drinking, and Texas officials do not know when the power outages will end, according to local reports from Dallas. The weather channel reported that 17 people had died from the storm.
Reverend Wayne Walker of OurCalling, a Dallas-based homeless ministry, said his organization provided shelter in his building but became too crowded during the frost. There was not enough space for people to stay warm while maintaining social distancing.
A Dallas homeless shelter, where about 250 people lived, temporarily lost power due to the storm, the Dallas Morning News reported. The city has also relied on local hotels to provide winter shelter for the homeless during the pandemic.
The city of Dallas passed an ordinance last November that allows churches to open as emergency shelters during freezing temperatures. But the persistent pandemic made that difficult, which led to the decision to open the convention center as a warming station last week.
Walker said his organization helped shelter staff, worked 16 hours a day, and stayed in a downtown hotel near the convention center. Her family also volunteers while church friends, who have lost electricity, stay at home.
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The first night the center was opened, around 100 people showed up, Walker said. Tuesday (February 16), he expected more than 600 people. Everyone who comes to the shelter is given a rapid COVID-19 test. People staying at the center are asked to respect social distancing.
“People keep coming,” he said. “I just spoke to a mom who had six people in her house and they had no heating. She said it was warmer outside than in their house.
He said the Salvation Army, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and other faith groups had organized meals and other supplies. OurCalling also collects donations through its website.
“I don’t want people going to Walmart to buy supplies and try to bring them to us,” he said, citing freezing conditions and dangerous roads. “It is not very wise.”
Walker said he was happy to be able to lend a hand.
“We are able to show people the grace and mercy of the hands of Christ,” he said.
Frigid temperatures have also caused hardship at a refugee camp just across the Texas border in Matamoros, Mexico, where hundreds of migrants wait to seek asylum in the United States. According to Border Report, Catholic Charities volunteers from the Rio Grande Valley brought blankets, jackets and sleeping bags to the camp.
“We tell them the best way is to bundle up and be inside their freezing tents,” Sister Norma Pimentel told Border Report.
Alma Ruth, founder of the Texas-based Practice Mercy Foundation, visited the camp this week and posted a video of the shelters many refugees live in in the camp. Shelters are tent-shaped structures covered with plastic.
“This is unacceptable,” said Ruth, an evangelical missionary, in a video posted to her Facebook page. “I want you to pray first that the Lord will expedite the process so that they can seek asylum in the United States.”
One of the largest congregations in the country, Lakewood Church in Houston, also opened to serve as an emergency shelter.
“If you need a warm place, Lakewood is open.” pastor, author and televangelist Joel Osteen noted in a Twitter invitation.
Hundreds arrived last night and more today due to power outages. Staff and volunteers are on hand to help. We have beds, blankets, a hot meal and supplies for those in need. Stay safe, keep praying for Texas.