Starting today, Austin’s homeless shelter is officially a housing-focused shelter, shifting its resources to longer-term efforts and less on day-to-day emergency shelter operations.
Under a contract with the city, Front Steps, the operator of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, had an Oct. 1 deadline to shift its focus. Front Steps began transitioning in April, after City Council approved the contract. The new model pairs clients with case management services that aim to find housing resources before a client leaves the shelter.
Front Steps CEO Greg McCormack says the shift will ultimately mean fewer beds and fewer opportunities for daily services like storage and day-sleeping, but it will ultimately house more Austinites.
"We’ve had about a 55 to 60 percent success rate of getting people into housing who are in case management," he said. "And so, the intensive services that will be provided – that had been provided in the past to about half the people who were staying here – are going to be provided to all the people who are staying here."
The shelter ended its lottery system for shelter beds at the beginning of August, but still continued day services. McCormack says Front Steps could stop those services by as soon as the end of the year, but it's actively working to find providers to take over before winding them down.
ARCH reduced its number of beds from 190 to 130 after a third-party report said the shelter should require case management to better house people. The report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness found only two of 1,526 people who didn't receive case management ended up transitioning into housing in 2017 – compared to roughly half of the 195 people who received case management. Overall, the report found both the ARCH and the Salvation Army's tracking of outcomes lacking.
McCormack says Front Steps will work with both NAEH and Austin Public Health to better record clients' transition and the shelter's overall progress.
The transition comes as the city tries to clean up the area outside the ARCH, where camping has become more common since the city rolled back regulations related to homelessness in June. The city is narrowing the sidewalks around Seventh and Neches streets to limit camp space and plans on adding more lighting around the building's perimeter.
Austin City Council members have also made addressing encampments outside the shelter a priority. Council members Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo have suggested Austin use city-owned land to temporarily house some people camped out front of the ARCH and under I-35 downtown.
Council could discuss that resolution – and a possible reinstatement of certain prohibitions on where Austinites can sit, lie down and camp in public – this month. Members met to vote on possible revisions last month, but couldn't come to a consensus. Last week, Mayor Steve Adler suggested the Council didn't necessarily have to revise the ordinances in a formal vote, arguing the city manager and the Austin Police Department could better enforce city law.