San Antonio Migrant Resource Center Has Helped More Than 25,000 Since March
For families allowed to claim asylum at the Texas border, the first destination is almost always San Antonio, at least for a day. Over the last few months the flow became too much for Catholic Charities, so the city and a downtown church stepped in to help.
Since then, what was supposed to be a simple and even temporary response has become a big operation that has helped thousands of families in the Alamo City for a layover, of sorts.
The San Antonio Migrant Resource Center opened on March 30 with a pretty simple mission, according to Tino Gallegos, the city’s migrant services coordinator.
"Our main idea was we need to be able to help people get a hold of somebody in the United States that they know so they can reach their destination,” Gallegos said. “And, if possible, assist them in buying tickets, and if that process takes a few days we need to provide the necessities of life during that period of time.”
It started with a few dozen people coming in every day, mostly from Central America. Most of them knew where they were going and just needed a little help figuring out how to get a bus or plane ticket and to have a meal and a safe place to sleep for a night.
But in late May that started to change. Shuttles from the border started bringing hundreds of asylum seekers from places like Haiti and countries in Africa and dropping them off by the bus station. Gallegos said it quickly became evident things had changed.
"(Migrants) were just, in effect, stranded — and in large numbers — right in downtown, and a lot of them had kids," Gallegos said.
So the Migrant Service Center had to step up its game. It brought on more volunteers and put out a call for more donations of money and supplies.
City of San Antonio Public Relations Manager Roland Martinez said on a day in mid-July, roughly 200 people were inside the resource center, which is a former Quiznos sub shop across the street from the bus station.
The old sub shop was full of families. A mother changed a diaper as another breastfed her baby to sleep on the floor. A crowd of people was pressed up against a counter where, in days past, someone might take your sandwich order.
"The folks see behind the counter are the volunteers,” Martinez said. “You see some of the folks have stickers that say they speak another language, and what they're doing here is, right now they're taking questions from the migrants."
A woman behind the counter held up a phone and made an announcement.
"That's probably a family member calling that person saying, 'Come to the phone, I have your travel arrangements,'" Martinez said.
A young man rushed to the counter and took the phone.
"He's going to get the information, maybe a confirmation number, and so when it's time for him to leave he's all set," Martinez added.
Most of these people will have to stay at least one night in San Antonio.
That's where the Travis Park Church comes in. It's been taking in overnight guests since the city got involved in March.
On this night in July, 220 people slept in a church that has 300 army cots wedged together in two separate rooms on the church's second floor.
As they entered the church, a volunteer greeted them in French and Spanish. He explained that they would have access to clean clothes, toiletries and bathrooms. They would have a place to sleep, and in the morning, volunteers would take them back to the resource center for breakfast.
He then helped hand out Red Cross blankets to each person in the line before directing them upstairs.
Travis Park Church Pastor Gavin Rogers said when they decided to open the church to migrants in March they didn't really think they'd still be doing it in July, but he’s not sorry they’re doing it, and they plan to keep it up for however long there’s a need.
Rogers said their faith doesn't give them another choice.
"I worship a God who was a migrant. Jesus Christ — when he was young — Mary and Joseph fled genocide into Egypt,” he said. “If you're a different person of faith, Moses and Abraham were both migrants. Mohammed was a migrant."
Since the end of March, 15,000 migrants have slept at Travis Park Church, and 30,000 have used the resources offered by the city at the Migrant Resource Center.
Correction: A previous version of this story included the incorrect number of migrants who have received resources from the City of San Antonio between March 30 and July 17. City officials said about 25,700 migrants received assistance.