Council to discuss rescope of the ARCH, immediate housing and services

"We need help. Noticed I said 'we' because I'm in the same boat. I ride around at night making sure these people even get something to eat," said homeless man Michael Ross in front of the ARCH Wednesday. Ross says he sleeps wherever he can. "I do have an ARCH card, I went in there a couple of times just to sleep during cold.  But it's not even worth it," Ross said.  

According to data from ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness), more than 7,000 people experienced homelessness in our city in 2017.  

A little more than a thousand unsheltered on a given day in 2018.

It's a priority at City Hall. I asked Ross what the City Council should know about living on the streets. "You got some that don't want help and you got some that do want help. I want help. I have friends that will help," he said. I asked Ross what sort of help he needs.

"Me? Housing. Give me somewhere to go. I can work. I'll do that all day long," Ross said.  

At Thursday's council meeting, homelessness will be the focus of two agenda items. One is a contract renewal for Front Steps, the organization that runs the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

If approved the contract will rescope the ARCH. "There are going to be some changes. Right now about 25 to 30% of the individuals who are able to sleep at the ARCH are receiving case worker service. We're going to move that to 100%," said Council Member Kathie Tovo. 

Tovo says every person staying at the ARCH will be connected to services and on a path to housing.  But at the same time, the shelter will go from 190 beds to 130. "By them taking beds away that's putting more people back out on the street.  You don't take something away you add to something to make it better," Ross said.  

Tovo says the idea is to provide the safest environment at the ARCH but the reduction of beds is a concern. "It will present some challenges you know we have many individuals who currently go through the lottery, may not receive a bed for the night so we already have more demand than we have available beds," Tovo said.  

Well more beds are on the way in Austin. "We have studied this. We've said it's a top priority. We have talked to experts and so there's really a consensus that we need more immediate shelter," said Council Member Ann Kitchen.  

Kitchen's resolution is a pilot project that will lead to immediate shelter and support services in Austin.

Kitchen says it directs the City Manager to report back in May about the financial and staffing needs as well as what the shelter might look like -- options include a fabric membrane structure or an existing building. "So the resolution sets us on a path.  The goal is to put this in place by the end of September,” Kitchen said.  

As far as where that immediate housing will be...Kitchen's resolution says it could be put on city property or property owned by a city partner but not right next to a residential neighborhood unless the neighborhood gave the go-ahead.

Council will vote on the ARCH contract and the immediate housing at Thursday's meeting.