AUSTIN - In an effort to address Downtown Austin's growing number of homeless people, a city program will bring in more officers to the area around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) at 7th and Neches streets.
The leaders behind the initiative said there is a health and public safety crisis near the ARCH.
Starting Aug.15, the city not only plans to add more officers to patrol the area, but they will increase anti-drug initiatives, bring more lighting and change the way food is distributed.
On any given day, ARCH sees about 500 people.
Overcrowding, safety and health are three acute issues ECHO -- or the "Ending Community Homeless Coalition" -- is addressing.
"I think it's acute because of the dangers that come with people crowding Downtown who need help,” said Ann Howard, ECHO's executive director. “Then the predators that are taking advantage of those vulnerable folks.”
Howard said specifically, those are drug dealers.
Some of them are selling synthetic drugs, commonly known as K2. Austin-Travis County EMS reports they had 140 patient contacts with synthetic drugs in June. That is significantly less than the 457 in April of this year.
Homelessness remains an issue, though.
"But it's a crisis down there,” said Mayor Steve Adler. “There are vulnerable people that are being hurt. And in a city that is as prosperous as Austin is, this is something that we ought to be able to do something about."
Adler said the new initiative may require additional funding. City council will discuss that this week.
Organizations such as ECHO, Caritas and Salvation Army are working together.
"I trust they're going to be able to propose to us the best immediate course of action,” Adler said.
Howard said Caritas will now serve lunch at the ARCH. And she expects additional officers, mental health and case workers will lead to this ultimate goal.
"Connect people to housing,” said Howard. "We do need additional resources in Austin to make more housing available and accessible to these clients."
The Austin Police Department said it is still working out the details on how many more officers will patrol the area.
They will make the decision based on the availability of overtime funds, plus on duty resources.
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