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New City Agreement With ARCH Will Shift Focus To Housing

Martin do Nascimento

The Austin City Council approved a new contract of Front Steps – the operator of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. The agreement, which was unanimously approved, aims to bring systemic changes to the city's homeless shelter.

One of those changes would reduce the number of beds from 190 to 130 and focus more resources on helping people transition out of homelessness. It would also phase out the first come-first served model that often turns to a lottery system for admissions.

That shift in its service model was spurred, in part, by recommendations by the nonprofit National Alliance to End Homeless, which surveyed ARCH practices and suggested Front Steps retrain its workers to emphasize housing.

At City Council's meeting Thursday, District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo said the agreement is a step forward in changing that model, but that the process isn't necessarily over.

"We have much more work to do, and I think so much of our discussion has highlighted that," she said. "But we're taking a very good step forward today in reshaping how services are delivered at the ARCH."

Mayor Steve Adler said, given the contract's focus on housing, council will likely have more discussions on the availability of affordable housing in Austin.

"We're decreasing the number of beds [at the ARCH]," Adler said. "We have to have a place for people to go. That's going to take a significant investment in the community toward permanent supportive housing. And, so, we're all going to hear a lot more and more about that."

Adler said the city's $250 million bond, which voters approved in November, could help fund those investments.

At times, the city has "asked too much" of the ARCH, said Ann Howard, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. The new model, she said, would move people in and out more quickly.

"We ought to have flow through the system. Folks come in and solve their problems, solve their homelessness in a quicker fashion," Howard said. "So that more people get to come in and go out. And that is what we're looking for."

The new contract would also require all people passing through the ARCH doorways to get case management services and what's called a coordinated assessment – which is the first step to getting transitional or permanent housing for Austin's homeless. The city found only 25 to 30 percent of ARCH clients receive case management and that coordinated assessments aren't always done upon entry.

This story has been updated.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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