Tuesday, July 17, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Case management, facilities improvements among recommendations for new ARCH contract

An analysis by a national agency focused on ending homelessness has given the city its recommendations on how to revamp services and operations at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Among them are a change to make the downtown center easier to enter for those seeking shelter, putting a priority on helping the most vulnerable potential clients, improving the physical conditions on-site, and offering case management services that will help those experiencing homelessness to find housing quickly.

The report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness was completed in advance of City Council releasing a request for qualifications, and eventually accepting proposals, from organizations looking to win the contract to manage the ARCH, which has been handled by Front Steps since the facility was opened. The new contract will go into effect in April, and the new vendor contract is expected to be decided by the end of 2018 or in early 2019.

NAEH, which authored the report with OrgCode Consulting, addresses the overcrowding and other issues that have increasingly plagued the ARCH as Austin’s homeless population has grown and overburdened services at the center, which routinely accommodates twice its 100-bed capacity.

“The Alliance and OrgCode will work with the community in Austin to implement these recommendations and make all the shelters a part of a strong homeless response system,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of NAEH. “It’s important to remember that the transition to low-barrier and housing-focused shelter is one critical element to an effective systematic response to homelessness. But it won’t end homelessness on its own. It’s essential that there’s also an investment in permanent housing resources to help people have a place to exit shelter into.”

The new study in some ways mirrors a March report from Austin’s i-team in the Innovation Office, which found that the day/night churn of clients sleeping at the ARCH diminishes the quality of clients’ stays and keeps staff from having the space and time to work with clients on ways to end their temporary homelessness. The i-team also recommended facilities improvements and making the center a connection point for other resources in the community that address issues such as health care and joblessness.

Taylor Cook, project manager for the i-team project at the ARCH, said creating a more stable environment inside the facility will gradually help people there to find the stability they need to get back into permanent housing.

“Every day there’s a level of chaos by asking people to leave to prep the building for day use and then leave again to turn it for a night shelter,” Cook said. “It’s hard for staff to sit down with a client and work with them on a case and problem-solve to find a way to get them into housing. There’s too much activity being undertaken in one building, and we know the underlying problem is too much pressure being put on that place.”

Ann Howard, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, said other shelter and temporary housing options such as Community First! Village in East Austin and others coming on line in 2019 and beyond will help to ease some of the burden faced by the ARCH. That makes the coming contract and the chance to reframe the ARCH’s operations a chance to help the newly homeless and keep them from cycling through shelters for a year or more.

“We need to create flow in the system to let a client come in, say this is what they need, and help them get that,” Howard said. “We don’t want a system that doesn’t have access to back-end services and solutions. You sleep fewer people and make sure there’s access to the housing and support services that clients need, because you want to be able to come in, get help and move on on the path to housing.”

Photo from Google Maps.

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