City of Austin testing new drop-in center for growing homeless population


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is wrapping up a new pilot program which offers more than a dozen resources to people experiencing homelessness on a walk-in basis.

The Service Navigation Center has been housed at the old Faulk Central Library in downtown Austin and has helped more than 355 people so far.

This comes at a time when the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, better known as the ARCH, has begun phasing out its drop-in services. The data from the five-week pilot will now go to the city officials as they consider whether or not to fund its continuation.

Services offered include Social Security benefits application support, employment assistance, housing navigation, HIV/AIDS testing, food stamps application assistance and more.

“We have social workers, we have medical help, we can get cards printed. We have everything in one place, and to be able to get that all in one place, has been invaluable for people,” said Devyn Harris, a peer support specialist at the Service Navigation Center.

“94% of the people who have come through the center have said that they understand the next step in their plan,” said Mark Janchar, a user researcher for the office of design and delivery for the City of Austin. “I think we’ve proved that there is a need for it. I think the data will show that this is a valuable service for people.”

Janchar has headed the Service Navigation Center for several weeks, and said he consistently hears a demand for services that can help Austin’s homeless population get back on their feet.

“There’s no where to go for accurate, reliable, up-to-date information. And until that exists, a face-to-face interaction with a trained social worker, peer support specialist is the best place to get that information.”

Mark Janchar, City of Austin

The pilot project will end this week and city officials will analyze the data to figure out which services were in the most demand and whether or not this has helped those experiencing homelessness in their mission to find housing or locate a job.

The city will also need to find funding and a department to take control of the Service Navigation Center.

“I think we have proved that there is a value and there is a need and we just have to look at the data and make sure that this is something that we can do in a positive direction,” Janchar said.

Thursday on KXAN Today, viewers will hear from Mayor Steve Adler as he prepares to publicly introduce Austin’s new chief homeless officer, Lori Pampilo Harris.

Then later on KXAN News, we will air our interview with Pampilo Harris in her first public address with the media. We’ll ask her what specific plans she has in place to address Austin’s homeless situation.

Tonight on KXAN News at 9 and 10 p.m., Alex Caprariello will take you through a guided tour of the Service Navigation Center.

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