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This is what’s being done to protect Texas’ most vulnerable communities

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A deadly winter storm and cold snap in Texas left many in the Lone Star state struggling as those used to the heat are now fighting freezing temperatures, icy roads and rolling power outages.

The devastating weather is shining a light on inequities in a state with large immigrant and homeless populations, many of whom are without the resources to safely ride out the storm.

More than 25,000 people in Texas are homeless, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The largest populations of homeless people are in Dallas and Austin, according to the Texas Tribune. The American Immigration Council estimated that as of 2018, 4.9 million immigrants were living in Texas (about 1 in 6 people or approximately 17%)

Luckily, though, city departments and a number of organizations have stepped up to provide shelter, food and warmth for the most vulnerable populations in Texas.

Police in Dallas and San Antonio have both passed out food, opened warming centers and reunited an elderly man with his family. Local organizations have been converting buildings into shelters, teaming up with local restaurants and even providing assistance to their own employees affected by the storm.

“A crisis like this brings out the best in people,” said Matt Brown, CEO of the advocacy group Centro San Antonio. “We’re trying to provide human support to others.”

Here’s what some organizations across Texas are doing to help those in need:

They’re converting convention centers

The Dallas-based nonprofit Our Calling faced hardship recently that’s all too familiar in Texas: Pipes bursting that leads to flooding.

Pastor Wayne Walker, Our Calling CEO, told CNN the organization then reached out to Dallas officials Friday. Our Calling is now operating 24/7 out of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as an emergency homeless shelter.

The shelter provides hot meals and water, Covid-19 testing along with medical services and behavioral health along with other essentials for those struggling in the cold.

In the state’s capital, the community organization Austin Justice Coalition transformed their office space — which has been closed because of Covid-19 — into a shelter for the homeless and elderly with cots, blankets and warm food, according to Ishia Lynette, the organization’s communications director.

Even farther south, Centro San Antonio has housed 46 people in their shelters, which is more than they typically do in a year, Brown said. They also have outreach specialists and a team of people to transport people to shelters across the city.

“For the last few days, we have been doing spot checks around downtown ourselves and coordinating with the police department — who have patrols downtown — so we’re constantly monitoring or looking for anybody,” Brown said.

Sacred Heart, a church in San Antonio, opened their civic center to helping anyone but they’ve mainly been helping their parishioners, many of whom are Mexican immigrants, according to Rev. Frédéric Mizengo. Initially the church wasn’t receiving as many calls when they opened Tuesday, but as of Wednesday more are calling, Mizengo said.

They’re teaming up with other organizations

Part of helping these disadvantaged communities includes teaming up with other organizations to expand outreach.

The Austin Justice Coalition initially catered to homeless people and those in need of shelter, but Lynette says the Nation of Islam reached out and said they had 15-20 elderly people who did not have power for two days.

“We opened our doors to them,” Lynette said.

Rev. Mizengo told CNN that restaurants in the San Antonio area were helping Sacred Heart church feed their parishioners and the broader public.

Brown told CNN that aside from working with city police, Centro San Antonio volunteers are also helping out at the city’s warming center.

“My organization has all the human support that we need. We’re trying to provide human support to others,” Brown said.

They’re working through challenges

Despite all efforts to assist everyone during these winter storms, local organizations are also facing challenges of their own.

Like the people they’re helping, many of the leaders and representatives told CNN that employees and volunteers have no power, heat or even running water. Some have also expressed fears of traveling on icy roads.

“Our staff who have been without power for two days, so the food has gone to waste in their refrigerators and they don’t have a fire place. What we’ve done as an organization is ensure hotel rooms for our staff to ensure they’re safe. We’ve supplied food to our staff,” said Brown, CEO of Centro San Antonio. “We’re literally taking care of our own people the way we take care of our community members.”

Lack of resources have also been an issue for these organizations. Ice and snow in Dallas are causing delays in delivering and obtaining resources like food, water and bedding, said Walker with Our Calling.

“We’ve never had this weather in 20 years here in Dallas,” he said. “How do we meet this unlimited need with resources financially?”

The storm has also made people homeless, Walker said. The pastor added that even after the storm, people will still be homeless.

“The implications of this will last for months to come,” he said.

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