The memo, sent to Austin’s mayor and council on Monday, June 25, cites the results of a June 22 code inspection in which officials found the presence of bed bugs, showers spouting cold water, occupancy limit issues, a hole in the bathroom wall and a leaking water pipe. Code officers also reported that fire exits were being “propped open inappropriately.”
The ARCH, located at 500 E. Seventh Street, is managed by the nonprofit organization Front Steps. Executive Director Greg McCormack said the inspection was a surprise; however, he countered some of the report's claims. He said the showers definitely have hot water and the shelter is not overcrowded, rather, the Fire Marshal still needs to designate an occupancy limit for the building.
As for bed bugs, McCormack said it is an ongoing issue for homeless service organizations, but the shelter is taking new steps to continue to fight the pests.
"It's a struggle; when you're having people come in from different places, especially if they've been camping or staying at lower-end hotels," McCormack said.
The shelter has revamped its bed mat-cleaning strategies over the last six months, McCormack said. They consistently heat treat the mats and pest control teams now come in weekly as opposed to monthly.
McCormack said many of the code violations indicate the volume of homeless people the ARCH helps.
"We have 500-700 people coming in the doors each day," McCormack said. "That creates a lot of wear and tear."
In addition to providing shelter, the ARCH helps connect homeless people to resources and provides services such as phone calls, mail, lockers and showers.
According to Monday’s memo from Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden, the public health department received complaints on the conditions at the ARCH earlier in the year. Following an initial visit by the health department, Hayden requested an inspection by the code department.
After the June 22 inspection, the code department found the various violations.
The ARCH has recently come under scrutiny as the city debates how to move forward in solving Austin’s homelessness issue. Assistant Police Chief Justin Newsom said Austin has between 2,000 and 7,000 homeless people at any given time, while the ARCH only has 100 beds.
Bill Brice, head of the Downtown Austin Alliance, recently called the shelter one of the city’s "greatest failures" in its attempt to solve the homelessness problem.