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ARCH prepares to improve results by serving fewer clients

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

As of April 1, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless is moving forward with a renewed 18-month contract with Front Steps Inc. to redesign its services to have better focus on individual clients and improve efficiency.

Vella Karman, manager of social services policy at Austin Public Health, told the Health and Human Services Committee Monday that the redesign involves a series of high-level phases that have already begun, with the overall strategy of providing improved services for fewer daily clients.

Having completed an initial planning phase and made several staffing changes, APH will start working with the National Alliance to End Homelessness and its subcontractor Org Code this month to provide workshops, trainings and weekly conference calls for Front Steps and APH staff.

Following the initial trainings, Org Code will be visiting Front Steps with NAEH at the end of May for a three-day on-site “shadowing” and training while establishing a baseline of performance data for a follow-up comparison in December.

The main feature of the redesign will be a shift away from the first-come, first-served and lottery model of granting overnight beds in favor of a reservation system that will allow more clients to reserve beds, giving them more time to work on securing critical needs like stable housing and income.

Karman said this has the additional benefit of saving clients from spending hours waiting outside in inclement weather to see if a bed will become available.

To help connect clients with the tools and resources they need, ARCH will also be reducing the total number of beds from 190 to 130. Karman said that reduction will be felt most in the winter months when shelter is more sought after, but ultimately the reduction will allow the shelter to reserve the Day Resource Center for those 130 individuals, giving them more flexibility to stay in the shelter during the day and ensuring that 100 percent of those clients receive case management and coordinated assessment services.

Currently, clients are required to leave early in the morning to allow 200-300 individuals access to the Day Resource Center. Under that system, only 25-30 percent of clients receive case management, and none of the clients receive coordinated assessment to help them secure temporary or permanent housing.

“With this new focused redesign model of everyone that is staying there having housing-focused case management, we anticipate people not staying there as long as they have been,” Karman said. “And so we anticipate, even though there are so many beds or mats, that the turnover rate will be faster and we will be able to get more folks into the shelter, into services and into housing.”

In the coming months, the center will be gradually reducing the number of beds, phasing out the lottery system and implementing a new pilot that will prioritize adult males, the demographic Karman said is most in need of shelter in Austin.

For the many individuals who will still be looking for shelter after those 130 beds are reserved, APH Director Stephanie Hayden said APH is working with a number of partner organizations to “engage everyone that really wants to be engaged and get them connected to some type of service.” She said APH will be working to solidify those partnerships and efforts over the next few months.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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