AUSTIN (KXAN) — A pilot program launched last month has connected 180 people living on the streets downtown with homeless shelters and services.

Under the plan, Urban Alchemy employees will walk up and down Sixth Street — and some adjacent streets — during the day, Monday through Friday, to connect with people in the area experiencing homelessness.

“Build trust and relationships, understand their needs,” said Bill Brice of the Downtown Austin Alliance.

The goal is twofold, he added: providing resources for these individuals and improving public safety downtown.

It’s a pilot program – and still in its early stages – so there’s no measure of long-term success yet, but Brice said they’ve already made some changes.

“We started our team on the scene at 9:30 a.m., three and a half hours after our ambassadors and APD officers were on the street, and what we realized was when the… [Urban Alchemy] The team responded to those calls about three hours later, most people [experiencing homelessness] were gone, so we changed the hours,” Brice said. “We try to be fluid. Use this as the test it is meant to be to learn and understand.”

Examples of people who have success with emergency shelters in the inner city

Alfred Stewart said the ARCH's help saved his life.
Alfred Stewart said the ARCH’s help saved his life. (KXAN Photo/Brianna Hollis)

On Tuesday afternoon, Alfred Stewart walked in front of the KXAN camera with a big smile on his face.

“This place saved my life,” he said of ARCH, one of the main emergency shelters downtown.

As we continued to speak with him, we learned a little over three weeks ago that he was struggling with addiction.

“I found something that really cares about me and my recovery,” he said.

Now he’s been sober for three weeks and already has a job at Roppolo’s Pizza just down the street. He said he hopes other people get the same help he did.

“Accept them and embrace them, no matter what clothes they wear or what you have, and give them a shot of civilization again,” Stewart said.

One challenge of the pilot program may be getting people to accept help.

“Some people like to choose such a life,” said Elisa, who also lives in accommodation in the city center. After her husband’s death, she stayed downtown and says she now feels supported and is on her way to getting back on her feet.

“They helped me a lot,” she said.

The pilot program runs until July.

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