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Downtown Alliance praises ‘transformation’ of ARCH under new management

Tuesday, December 20, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

Just months after the management switch-up at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, the Downtown Austin Alliance is praising what it calls “transformational change” at the downtown men’s shelter.

The alliance’s safety and hospitality committee toured the facility in early December to learn about recent improvements made by Urban Alchemy, the California-based nonprofit now in charge of managing shelter operations.

In July, the city announced it would end its longtime partnership with ARCH operator Front Steps due to mismanagement, and the nonprofit’s own board of directors acknowledged it would need a structural overhaul in the wake of the pandemic.

But replacing Front Steps, which had run ARCH since 2004, wouldn’t be easy. Despite questions about whether Urban Alchemy was the right fit, as well as concerns about allegations involving the group’s handling of an encampment in Sausalito, Calif., City Council had little choice in its selection process due to lack of interest in the contract. Urban Alchemy was the only entity interested in taking the job, and it was already partnered on another project with the local Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

Urban Alchemy took over operations on Oct. 1 – and Downtown Austin Alliance is pleased with the preliminary results. According to the business coalition, ARCH has undergone “a remarkable transformation” since the management shift.

Those changes include office and storage space in the building repurposed as dormitories for nighttime workers, respite care and spaces for service provision. The alliance also praised the addition of 100 built-in bunk beds and 35 cots that have replaced mat sleeping, although 127 people remain on the shelter’s waiting list.

While improving shelter conditions, the alliance reports Urban Alchemy sheltered and housed more people in its first month managing ARCH than the previous operator had in the entire first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021-22.

The alliance also cites changes Urban Alchemy has made to the exterior of the building, including regular maintenance and power-washing, as well as a remade entryway featuring plants and a fresh paint job.

“For people who frequent downtown, the most noticeable changes are those outside the ARCH,” wrote Bill Brice, the alliance’s vice president of investor relations. “No longer are people sitting, lying, camping or loitering on the sidewalks near the building.”

Brice also noted that alliance staff and committee members will continue to work on the city’s ongoing efforts to reimagine the future of ARCH and social service delivery downtown.

“The Downtown Alliance applauds Urban Alchemy for the progress they’ve made over the past two months,” Brice wrote.

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