ARCH experiences 'remarkable transformation' under new operators

Last summer, the City of Austin approved a change and operators for the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH).

The California-based nonprofit, Urban Alchemy, took over shelter operations in October, ending a near 20-year city partnership with Front Steps. 

In a recent article by the Austin Monitor, the Downtown Austin Alliance was quoted as saying, since the change, the ARCH has experienced, "remarkable transformation."

Bill Brice, vice president of Investor Relations for the Downtown Austin Alliance, joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.

Bill Brice: Thanks for having me on.

Rebecca Thomas: Bill, in that article, you applauded Urban Alchemy as progress on behalf of the Alliance. Can you expand on that? What type of progress have you seen with the ARCH? What have they done better than the previous operator over the last three months?

Bill Brice: The changes that have taken place both inside and outside the ARCH facility really appear to be nothing short of remarkable. Downtown Austin Alliance and many of its board members were at the ARCH facility December 1st for a tour and a meeting there with the staff running the facility now. And the changes both inside and out are really stunning. I think for most of the public, people would probably see the changes that have taken place outside more than inside. Outside today, unlike for more than a decade. There are no people camping, loitering, sitting in, lying on the sidewalks with illegal behavior such as narcotics or drug dealing and other things happening out there. Inside the facility, the changes are equally remarkable, where the physical space has been transformed to increase programmable space, shelter space. The ARCH is now sleeping at capacity 135 people every night, and they also have a waiting list of over 125 people who want to get into the facility. These changes are remarkable, and this is really important because Downtown Austin, like most other major cities, has the largest concentration of people experiencing homelessness of anywhere across the city. And we really need and always have wanted ARCH to operate maximally to better serve the needs of people experiencing homelessness, but also to really fit into downtown and be as clean, safe and welcoming as everywhere else downtown.

Rebecca Thomas: Where do you see opportunities for improvement at the ARCH, or do you know of any changes that are coming down the pike?

Bill Brice: The changes that have taken place since the new operator took over I think are what's most important to focus on, simply meaning that people want to get into the ARCH now the area is safe. That's so important for people who are in need of homeless social services. For that area to be dangerous and for people to want to avoid it is not what we want and need. We want the place to be welcoming and desirable. When you walk through the front door of the facility today, unlike in the past, you're no longer greeted by having to walk through a metal detector. The staff there, the practitioners, are people with lived experience. They are, in their own words, loving on people, making ARCH a welcoming facility and making it a place that people want to be. But it's also very effective. One of the things that's happened over the last three months is that 24 people have been housed who have access to services and shelter at ARCH. That's more than the total number of people that were housed in the first two quarters of the last fiscal year under the prior operator. The one improvement that I think could be made is in the city operated homeless shelter hotels. There are housing dollars attached with those facilities to move people through those facilities where the shelter itself does not become a dead end or semi-permanent location. That funding does not exist with ARCH. I think it's important that the city take a look in the future as to how housing dollars could be attached with that facility. So that again becomes a place that people can move through, not go to as a dead end.

Rebecca Thomas: All right. We are out of time. Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance, thank you so much for sharing your time and perspective with us tonight.