Downtown's ARCH taking different approach addressing homelessness, crime

It's not unusual to see a large homeless and transient population outside the empire control room.

“Drug dealers, prostitutes, folks who are high on one drug or another,” said Stephen Sternschein, owner of Empire Control Room.

Sternschein has a business to run, but says his employees often run into some road blocks.

“They have to clean up human feces, urine and post coital items,” said Sternschein.

He says lines outside the venue often become magnets for panhandling.

“Either the center needs to find a new place to call home or we have to do a much better job of keeping the exterior well policed and clear of criminals,” said Sternschein.

That's what police, the ARCH, Caritas of Austin, and the Salvation Army hope to do. Starting August 15 they are taking a different approach at fighting homelessness and the crime that comes with it.

“We are consolidating our food service inside the arch. The Salvation Army is going to be serving all the people who stay at their shelter within the Salvation Army building,” said Jo Kathryn Quinn, executive director of Caritas of Austin.

Normally various organizations would have their own meals served separately. Starting August 15, only people engaged and enrolled in case management can be served.

“Limiting the meal to people who are already engaged, might be a motivation to the people who aren't yet engaged,” said Quinn.

APD is also stepping up patrols near 7th and Neches streets.

“Of course if things safety-wise, or serious crimes, we will address those. But we want to be there more for the service providers, engagement with the clientele,” said Commander Jennifer Stephenson, APD.

This is an experiment, officials say, and they will monitor any migration or behaviors over time. For Sternschein it may not be a leap, but it's step in the right direction.

“It's not the ARCH center and it's not the people being serviced by the ARCH center. It's the folks who are hanging out in front of the ARCH center who don't have anything to do with the programs,” said Sternschein.

Last year, APD started their homeless outreach street team, or "HOST." It was supposed last three months but they saw so much success, it continues to this day. They hope this collaborative effort will show the same improvement.

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