ARCH location has become 'difficult place' for shelter to be, says Front Steps

Saturday night's shooting near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) is the second in a week.  

On Monday, Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps, the nonprofit that runs the ARCH, said the violence outside is a big problem.

"We always had some campers and some pop-up kind of things going on outside but we've recently seen an increase in that and a little bit more of a permanency to it," McCormack said about the camping across the street from the facility. "You know it was starting to increase in the last few months but we saw an increase with the ordinance changes."

The situation on the sidewalks outside the ARCH has been an ongoing issue over the years for tourists, business owners, police, and the homeless.  

"Many of the folks that you see outside today here are not homeless and are here because of the opportunity to be able to sell drugs and do other things and it's unfortunate," McCormack said.

As for the violence happening right outside, McCormack says his first thought is about the safety of those working there and the clients.

"What's outside doesn't really impact what's going on inside as much except for the safety of it, you have to come and go and you have to be able to get in and out of there," McCormack said.

McCormack says one thing that would help is an increased police presence outside.

"We did a 30-day pilot, it's been almost two years ago now, where we had APD here for 24 hours a day for one month and there was probably a reduction of 50 to 60% of just sheer numbers of individuals outside and the violence went down dramatically," McCormack said.   

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday has been critical of the ARCH and the crime in the area he feels is on the rise. He has consistently called on the City of Austin to move the building elsewhere.

"I think it's a combination of both: you have the mentally ill down there, you have people that are drug addicts and alcoholics and then you mix them with a bunch of teenagers coming in from around the country," Casaday said last week.

"For a long time there's been an interest in moving the ARCH and I agree that the business area around here has grown up to make this a difficult place for the shelter to be," McCormack said. 

McCormack says there are ways to co-exist and mitigate some of the problems with increased police presence.

"If there was a consensus that we needed to move the ARCH then I'm not opposed to that, let's move it, figure out a better place for people to be able to access services," McCormack said.

McCormack says the City's newest shelter project in south Austin will impact the ARCH area greatly.

"As far as what's going on outside here, I'm not sure that a new shelter is going to impact that greatly and again that's why I'd say we need to talk with those out here, find out what is an acceptable solution besides staying here on these sidewalks," McCormack said.  

The ARCH model is changing somewhat in October. The shelter will remove some beds to better serve a smaller number of clients at one time and the idea is to get them into housing quicker.

As far as moving the ARCH, Council Member Kathie Tovo said last week there are currently no plans to do that.

She does support putting more police at the ARCH but she says placement of officers is up to Police Chief Brian Manley.