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Housing

Winter Storms Bring Deadly Risks for the Homeless

In cities like Houston and Portland, many unsheltered people sleep outdoors, leaving them particularly vulnerable during this week’s extreme cold.

Homeless encampments sit along the I-35 frontage road in Austin, Texas on Feb. 17. 

Homeless encampments sit along the I-35 frontage road in Austin, Texas on Feb. 17. 

Photographer: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images North America

On Sunday afternoon, people started lining up to get into Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center — a shelter of last resort for some 800 people — six hours before the facility opened. Temperatures plunged over the weekend in Texas, bringing snow, ice, and widespread power outages to several million households across the state.

But the most vulnerable Texans were those who had no homes. In Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and other cities, social workers and volunteers fanned out to search for unhoused people and usher them into emergency warming centers; when community shelters reached capacity, churches and nonprofits opened their doors to those seeking refuge. Not all found shelter: On Monday, a Houston man was found dead in a van after he declined to be taken to a warming center; another man was found dead on a highway median.