ARCH shelter among Austin’s 'greatest failures' in addressing homelessness, downtown leader says

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless is the lone city-operated homeless shelter in Austin.

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless is the lone city-operated homeless shelter in Austin.

Several community leaders criticized Austin’s response to the growing homeless population during a public safety discussion this week, blaming much of the issue on a lack of adequate services.

Bill Brice, vice president of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said the city has continually fallen short in addressing the issue. He specifically called out the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, or the ARCH, for its inadequacy.

“The ARCH represents one of the greatest failures of our community to address this problem,” Brice told the Public Safety Commission on June 5. “Who would want homeless services in their community when in everyone’s mind’s eye they see what lies outside the ARCH every single day?”

In January, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, counted 2,147 homeless people on the street. Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Justin Newsom said between 2,000 and 9,000 people experience homelessness in Austin each year.

Despite the large numbers and the year-to-year homeless population increase, the city has not expanded from the ARCH, which has roughly 100 beds available per night.

“In a city of a million people, we need more places for people to be,” Newsom said. “There is always going to be a need for the most sick, the most troubled to have help and services. What we give them is totally insufficient.”

Potential changes


Austin City Council is expected to re-examine three local laws that some say target the homeless population. They include a ban on aggressive solicitation, camping in the public right of way and sitting or laying down in certain parts of the community.

Emily Gerrick from the Texas Fair Defense Project said the ordinances not only target homeless people but are over-enforced and make it tougher for the cited individual to exit homelessness. She said the citations typically come with a fine they cannot pay or a court date their situation makes them likely to miss. Gerrick said the missed court date turns into an arrest warrant, which shows up on background checks for jobs and housing.

Gerrick said some courts have determined similar laws to violate the First Amendment—free speech—and the Eighth Amendment—mandating fair administration of justice.

Chris Harris with Grassroots Leadership agreed with the notion that the city substantially lacks services; however, he said the police department’s enforcement of “ineffective” ordinances drain city resources that could be put toward solutions.

Newsom said the ordinances allow the police department to issue lower class misdemeanors in substitute of a harsher charge. The no camping ordinance keeps police officers from in some instances issuing a criminal trespass charge, he said, and the aggressive solicitation ordinance allows officers to intervene before an assault happens.

Newsom said until the city builds somewhere for homeless people to go, the ordinances are necessary for public order.

“Without [the ordinances], you could have both sides of Congress Avenue—from the river to the Capitol—lined with tents, and all we can do is walk around them because there is no law that says they can’t be there,” Newsom said.

The Public Safety Commission passed a resolution encouraging the City Council to investigate improvements to how the city deals with homelessness. On June 14, the council will discuss a resolution that asks the city manager to develop a project and funding plan to address homelessness and housing initiatives.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


MOST RECENT

Rapid nasal swab antigen tests are recommended as options for individuals who were potentially exposed to a confirmed positive carrier, as well as for people traveling, returning to work or undergoing a medical procedure. (Courtesy Total Primary Care)
Find out where to get a 15-minute COVID-19 test in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth metros

Rapid nasal swab antigen tests are recommended as options for individuals who were potentially exposed to a confirmed positive carrier, as well as for people traveling, returning to work or undergoing a medical procedure.

A mother and daughter visit at Seasons Assisted Living & Memory Care in Conroe earlier in the pandemic. (Courtesy Seasons Assisted Living & Memory Care)
Texas allows limited visitations to nursing homes, long-term care facilities

Facilities that meet the requirements will allow limited visitations, but you still will not be able to hug or kiss your loved one.

Austin ISD trustees approved a new school calendar Aug. 7, delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 8. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD officially delays start of school year until Sept. 8

The district could also extend virtual learning into November based on an approved Texas Education Agency waiver.

Austin Public Health will resume providing coronavirus testing for individuals without symptoms. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Asymptomatic coronavirus tests now available through Austin Public Health

Despite relative progress in county efforts to contain the virus, Dr. Mark Escott has urged the community to stay vigilant in social distancing and wearing masks.

Two events will be held in South Austin on Aug. 8 to distribute school supplies. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
School supply distribution events at two South Austin locations Aug. 8

The items will be placed in the trunk of vehicles that pull up to the schools, and walk-up groups will also be served.

Houston-based vintage clothing store Pavement will open in Austin on Aug. 14. (Courtesy Pavement)
South Austin news: Pavement opens new vintage store, YMCA offering child care and more

YMCA of Austin and Extend-A-Care will be offering full-day child care to supervise virtual learning at 10 locations, including Galindo Elementary School.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (Courtesy ATXN)
Austin mayor pushes for new ideas in policing, $100M cut to police budget during State of the City address

Austin Mayor Steve Adler also said the city needs a police chief who will champion change.

A teal coronavirus graphic
Travis County adds 202 new coronavirus cases Aug. 5

The county has confirmed 22,024 cases of the virus, with an estimated 20,059 recoveries.

Wonderspaces Austin
Interactive art gallery Wonderspaces opens in Austin and 3 other events to check out

Here is a list of events to safely check out in the coming weeks in and around Austin.