Hope Floats, And Other Stories Of Faith From This City Haven
Drop into the area around the Westside of San Antonio, near the County Jail, and there sits Haven for Hope. At any given time, it can assist about 2,000 people in its overnight courtyard or long-term housing program. Since it opened in 2010, the San Antonio institution has helped more than 2,200 people escape homelessness.
Fans buzz on a hot June afternoon as some of the Haven’s patrons sleep on the ground or walk through Prospect’s Courtyard. It’s a place for the homeless, but CEO Mark Carmona says it’s not a homeless shelter.
The key factor in its success is its access to jobs, something that the institution detailed in its progress to City Council this week.
“We don’t consider ourselves a homeless shelter, we consider ourselves a transformational campus. Because we’re not recycling people and providing them essentials and then putting them back on the street,” he said. “We’re addressing root cause issues and transforming.”
Carmona says about 90 percent of their successful residents have been able to remain in their jobs and homes. Valerie Salas is one of them. She’s in her 30’s and entered the Haven campus in 2013. “I had nowhere to go, I was coming off a heavy drug and alcohol addition; I had just hit rock bottom and needed some kind of help.”
Salas had experienced domestic violence, hospital stays from overdoses and suicide attempts. Her two boys were taken by Family Protective Services. On the advice of a counselor, she contacted Haven, and was enrolled in its In-House Recovery program — a three months substance abuse and addiction program.
“I remember I actually had seven dollars left to my name. I used to be in marketing when I was actually a functioning mother, and so I went and bought cinnamon rolls. I showed up at the gate and offered whoever ran this dorm that I needed to get into these cinnamon rolls, so they ended up giving me a bed.”
Salas spent 30 days in the program and then moved in with one of her sponsors. She is now in her 19th month of sobriety and working in a law firm. It’s taken her about a year to get here. “I ended up getting my own little apartment, once I felt safe enough financially to get that, and I got my own car, cleared up all of the legalities like the wreckage of my past as far as tickets and stuff, got my license functioning again, and now I’m back working on my GED.”
Salas is also in the process of getting her sons back. Her success story is not an isolated one. Haven says its helped move 1,400 homeless people into jobs and stability. Carmona says the campus is now taking on another project, which will provide jobs at its campus. Call center company CSG will employ 100 Haven residents. They’ll earn $10 an hour, and have full benefits.
“What I like about this program is that introduces work again to people, and the idea of work. And so, for our starting group of six, we started out at 10 hours a week and it grew to 25 and then 40. But it told people you have to get up, you have to be at work on time, you have to work while you’re there, and they really formed as a team.”
Carmona is also working with a Subway franchise operator to place a restaurant near the Haven shelter. It would hire Haven residents and generate some income for the program. And every time he does this, or any other project, it is an attestation to the concept of Haven, a place for hope.