Snow day to disaster – County Shelter. Photo credit: Jay Janner American-Statesman

As a girl growing up in Houston, I would dream of a snow day and considered ice encapsulated shrubs a sheer miracle! As a young adult, I enjoyed the Colorado Rockies during all seasons and learned that wool did a much better job than cotton at keeping me warm in cold, wet weather. I mothered young children while living in Arlington, Virginia during record snow and mastered keeping track of mittens and knit caps. But I had never, ever imagined folks skiing down 2222 or 1431, and the state capitol surrounded by snow bluffs — all in the dark, all in the cold, all while water pipes popped all around.

Sheltering the homeless

For a decade now, when temperatures drop, I worry about people experiencing homelessness. On February 12 and 13 — Friday and Saturday nights — I headed to the Austin Public Library to help people experiencing homelessness gather, wait and board buses for rec centers, which were serving as overnight shelters. On Sunday, in coordination with public health officials, our church, St. Martin’s Lutheran in Precinct 3, converted to an additional overnight shelter. My husband and I live within walking distance, and because of the snow day and ice, only a few of us church volunteers could help and keep the place open 24/7. We cooked, cleaned, found clothes, connected clients to medical help and even located sober living opportunities for 2 men who seized the opportunity to deal with their alcoholism. Several folks reconnected with family members, the VA and other helpful resources.

But as a new County Commissioner, I quickly learned concern for icy roads, propane scarcity, power outages and potable water. I set up an office at the church, and pretty much worked 24-7 for a week straight.

Precinct 3 staff serves residents

Despite working from home and being without power and water themselves, my team — Vicki, Lucy and Mick — came together to get drinking water to residents who badly needed it. They answered phones and emails, logged need for assistance and many residents solve. We teamed up with Rollingwood Mayor Mike Dyson and City Council Member Amy Patillo, and — with intel from AISD Trustee Arati Singh — facilitated volunteer efforts with the Boy Scouts from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church to get water to families who were in critical short supply. We coordinated with the Travis County Emergency Operations Center to arrange water delivery to apartment complexes in the Oak Hill area, where hundreds of people had gone days without running water. In a few dire cases, Lucy delivered cases of water to Precinct 3 homebound neighbors.

As my team focused southwest, I looked further out and participated with Bee Cave, Lakeway & the Hills, Lago Vista, Jonestown and Sandy Creek Ranches. I cheered when Star Flight landed with water under the direction of Emergency Services District 1 on the western edge of the county and worked a morning loading and unloading cases of water with City of Lago Vista leaders to make sure seniors living at The Island had bottled water. While I was checking on water distribution from the Lakeway Police Department, Lakeway neighbors loaded up cases for The Refuge in Bastrop. This was very much a neighbor-helping-neighbor kind of week.

Throughout the ordeal, which continues today with many residents still without running water, our office remained open all day every day, weekends included.

Words of appreciation from constituents:

Hello Vicki, Thank you so much to you and the volunteer Lucy who delivered the water to us. We are so grateful and thankful. We are okay for now as long as we have drinking water. Bless you guys!
Best Regards,

Please, I’d like to meet you & personally thank you.  That’s the first time I’ve written to a political figure & considering everything going on, not only did I get follow up but received what we needed — water.
Pat P.

Lucy – thank you & Ann from the bottom of my heart for the 2 cases of water!!

I’ve kept some & handed all the rest out to residents letting them know it came from Ann Howard!! 

Just FYI we are back in service with no breaks (well, a small one outside but downstream from the shutoff so no big deal). So we are almost back to normal and much richer for knowing the kindness of neighbors……

I love Texas.

Jonathon L.

Lesson learned — reliable information is key

One of the scarcest items during the storm was current reliable information. We provided a timely water update to the residents of Circle C, Precinct 3 HOA Presidents, and other Precinct 3 community leaders, and the response was one of much appreciation. I’ll be asking the County staff how we can do a better job at sharing timely information in emergencies.

My comment to KUT was solid: “I think our job as government and elected officials is to learn from this so that we’re not caught quite so flat-footed the next time.” If you’d like to visit with me or my staff about Travis County snow day disaster issues, please visit my contact page on this site.