Austin City Council vote on ARCH capacity reduction, new shelter ultimatum shifts homelessness strategy

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

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

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless will shrink its capacity by 60 beds, and a new shelter should be up and running by the end of September, both moves reflecting a shift in strategy in the city’s battle against its growing homelessness issue.

The new-look ARCH, the lone city-operated homeless shelter at the corner of Seventh and Neches streets in downtown Austin, will recede from 190 to 130 beds, but the amount of clients who get connected to the full menu of case management services offered in the Austin will increase from 30 percent to 100 percent. It is part of a new model Austin City Council unanimously approved at its Jan. 31 meeting.

Austin’s homeless population grew by 5 percent between 2017-18, while the amount of unsheltered homeless people jumped by roughly 22 percent. City Council, which has received constant criticism from the community for a lack of resources in battling homelessness, has listed it as its top policy priority.

Bill Brice, head of the Downtown Austin Alliance, an organization of downtown stakeholders, once called the ARCH one of the city’s “greatest failures” in addressing homelessness, but he said he supports the new scope of the ARCH.

“We know it’s critically important that we don’t just turn the dial on the ARCH; The entire system needs to be bolstered in order for the ARCH to be more effective,” Brice said.

Gus Peña, president and co-founder of Veterans for Progress and a regular critic of the city’s homelessness efforts, called the ARCH “problematic.”

“We need to do a better concerted effort to help the homeless,” Peña said.

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said she could not give an exact date of when the new ARCH model will take hold but said, “definitely by the end of the year.” Hayden said the shift would require training and hiring new staff.

Although supportive of the shift, Brice emphasized the need for more shelter space, and so did City Council on Jan. 31 with its unanimous support to have a new homeless shelter up and running by Sept. 30. Brice said it is the first expansion of city-run shelter space since the ARCH opened in 2004.

City Manager Spencer Cronk will come back to City Council by May 2 with Austin’s best options for building a new homeless shelter by the end of September. The resolution, brought by District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, stops short of directing how the shelter should be built but says it cannot be next to an existing residential neighborhood without the neighbors’ consent, and it must provide a pathway to permanent housing.

Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps, the nonprofit that partners with the city to run the ARCH, was unavailable for comment.

By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

Photo of vaccine vials
Austin, Travis County leaders push for improved Austin Public Health vaccine registration portal

Austin Public Health is working to clean up glitches in its portal.

A nearly five-year project to improve I-35 in the area of William Cannon Drive and Stassney Lane is set to finish in mid-2021. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
I-35 news to follow in '21: Work finishing in South Austin, input to be gathered for managed lane projects

While one project in South Austin approaches its final months, the Texas Department of Transportation is gathering input for projects to add nontolled lanes to I-35 over the next several years.

The Texas Legislature is responsible for drawing lines for new state and federal districts. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Redistricting process affecting every level of government gets underway in 2021

The state's process is largely a political one, while the city's process is left to an independent commission.

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County votes to accept application for Silicon Silver development incentives agreement

The company behind the project will be named once it submits an application and pays a $150,000 fee—the same as Tesla paid to apply for its hefty 2020 agreement.

Previous headliners included Cody Johnson, Turnpike Troubadours, Aaron Watson and Mark Chestnutt, among others. (Courtesy KOKEFest)
KOKEFest releases dates in Hutto; Marisol's Mexican Grill taking orders in Georgetown and more area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Austin ISD reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases the week of Jan. 4, but that number has decreased for two consecutive weeks, according to the district. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD sees 70% drop in on-campus students over past 2 weeks after district asks families to stay home

The district saw a 11,839-student decline in on-campus learning as AISD families opted for online learning from Jan. 12-22.

City officials are facing growing pressure to address the growing visibility of homelessness in Austin. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sanctioned homeless camp proposal gains attention from Austin leaders as pressure mounts

Mayor Steve Adler said the urgent need for shelter space and housing could overrule initial objections to sanctioned homeless encampments.

See how COVID-19 continues to impact Travis County. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Despite drop in hospital admissions, Travis County adds 4,039 new COVID-19 cases over past 7 days

Overall, Travis County has reported 65,507 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Construction at Q2 Stadium is on schedule to be completed by late March or early April. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin FC will play at newly named Q2 Stadium starting this summer

Austin FC announced the naming partnership with Austin-based tech company Q2 Holdings Inc. at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 25.

The Contemporary Austin will host a virtual artist talk Feb. 3 with photographers Torbjørn Rødland and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. COURTESY SARAH SCHULTZ/CONTEMPORARY ATX
Austin Film Society presents drive-in Sundance Film Festival screenings, The Contemporary Austin hosts a virtual artist talk and more events in Austin

Austin Film Society is a satellite screen partner for the Sundance Film Festival, which normally takes place at a ski resort in Utah, but is screening films digitally and through partners around the country this year.