Austin and Travis County sobering center will provide quarantine for high-risk homeless individuals as shelter-in-place continues

A photo of the exterior of The Sobering Center
The Sobering Center of Austin is located in downtown at 1213 Sabine St. (Community Impact Staff)

The Sobering Center of Austin is located in downtown at 1213 Sabine St. (Community Impact Staff)

As Travis County and the city of Austin’s “Stay Home, Work Safe,” orders persist, the Austin and Travis County sobering center will be used as a quarantine shelter for homeless individuals at high risk of developing complications if exposed to coronavirus, per a March 31 vote by the Travis County Commissioners Court.

The Sobering Center, located at 1213 Sabine St. in downtown Austin, is a co-funded operation of the city and county intended to serve as an alternative to jails and emergency rooms for publicly intoxicated individuals. As the center has increased capacity with fewer people out in public, available space will be allocated to a small number of high-risk persons.

Roger Jeffries, Travis County Justice & Public Safety county executive, outlined the city and county’s plan to triage care and quarantine space for the homeless, identifying The Sobering Center as a shelter with space for a small number of men and women who have underlying conditions that qualify them as high-risk but do not currently present coronavirus symptoms or have tested negative for the virus. Those who do present symptoms of the coronavirus will be sent to isolate at Austin’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The city is also in the process of lining up hotel rooms for indigent individuals who may have been exposed by proximity to others with the coronavirus, Jeffries said.

While those experiencing homelessness are not technically subject to the city and county’s shelter-in-place orders, the city indicated in its order that efforts to help the local homeless population comply would be forthcoming.

Travis County Judge Sara Eckhardt said the measure, while limited in scope, was a sign of the adaptability required of the county as the coronavirus continues its spread.

“COVID-19 is going to be with us not just for a couple weeks,” Eckhardt said. “COVID-19 is going to be with us for months.”
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.