ARCH sidewalk improvements underway

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless will look a little different soon.

On Monday morning, there was the usual presence of people gathering around the building, camping in semi-permanent structures on Neches, police officers on standby. What's new is a fenced-off area as crews work on what the City refers to as "beautifying" the sidewalks around the ARCH.

According to the Austin Public Health Department, parts of the sidewalk next to the ARCH on Neches and 7th Street will be replaced with crushed granite and landscaping like drought-tolerant plants with a total cost of about $54,000.

Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps the nonprofit that runs the ARCH, is hoping the project will improve safety too.

"With the number of people that have been outside the ARCH, it's been difficult for clients trying to come inside the ARCH to access services so trying to make sure there's a clear path," McCormack said. 

The sidewalk improvements are just part of the indoor/outdoor renovations at the ARCH. The City has already done some painting and cleaning inside and coming soon is more street lighting and the installation of water fountains nearby.

"Currently there are very few and none around the ARCH and around the Red River area," McCormack said.  

As for the violence that has occurred around the facility and in downtown in general lately, McCormack says that's something they need to address.

"I think it's something that we've got to address, I think lighting, keeping safety in mind, making sure people who are walking around the downtown area have a safe place to be able to walk," he said.

As for the sidewalk work at the ARCH, the City says it should take about two weeks. Austin Public Health released a statement about it:

This Wednesday the Austin City Council will meet specifically to discuss clarifying the ordinances passed this summer that legalized camping, sitting and lying.

Council Members Kathie Tovo and Ann Kitchen have a plan with more specifics on where people can and cannot be. Council Member Greg Casar and Mayor Adler have their own.

"I believe that the ordinance offered by me and the Mayor strikes a better balance of making sure that we totally protect public health and safety, that we protect everybody's reasonable use of public space and that we also protect everybody's basic civil rights," Casar said. "Because we know the ordinances as they existed in the past, did not solve the problem."

Casar sees Tovo and Kitchen's ordinance as more restrictive. On a Council message board, Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza who is supporting Casar's plan says she's "disheartened" some on the Council are "choosing a divisive step backward."

Tovo responded encouraging respect on the dais saying  "I hope we can all work to create a positive dialogue rather than to frame this Council conversation as a divisive one."

Council is meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the ordinances. They'll have their regular meeting on Thursday and the Mayor says they may meet again on Friday about the ordinances and actually take a final vote.