Driving around Downtown on March 18 was a surreal experience for Amber Price. The previous day, Mayor Steve Adler ordered most businesses in the city to close as a way of slowing the spread of COVID-19, and the streets were deserted – except for the people experiencing homelessness who had nowhere else to go. But that's why Price was down there; she's a community health paramedic with Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services who serves on the Homeless Outreach Street Team, where she provides a range of health care, case management, and other services to unhoused people living in Austin.
Talking with people on the streets, she picked up on a sense of panic stemming from a lack of clear information on the coronavirus, new to us all back then, and an even more pressing need: where to find food now that most of the city was shut down. Restaurants, bars, and even other organizations that provide food and supplies to people experiencing homelessness were closed, leaving unhoused people, already facing food insecurity, with even fewer options. So Price began making phone calls. EMS Association President Selena Xie got involved and helped organize volunteers to prepare and distribute meals. High school students in the EMS Explorer program began making grocery runs that Price and her colleagues delivered to people living in camps throughout Austin. When she was off the clock, Price – a single mother of two – continued running food to our unhoused neighbors.
The city, county, and nonprofits now have a robust system set up to feed vulnerable people in our community, but no such apparatus existed in the early days of the pandemic. It's thanks to Austinites like Price, and the network of volunteers and first responders she helped activate, that people most at risk in Austin during the pandemic were able to survive through that especially bleak and uncertain period.
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.