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As Demand For Housing Assistance Increases, San Antonio Shelters Lack Resources Needed To Reopen

San Antonio Rescue Mission is a men's shelter in San Antonio. It was shut down in March, at the beginning of the city’s months-long concern about the spread of the coronavirus.
Jerry Clayton | Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Rescue Mission is a men's shelter in San Antonio. It was shut down in March, at the beginning of the city’s months-long concern about the spread of the coronavirus.";

As the COVID-19 crisis continues in San Antonio, financial and economic resources are in high demand. However, the pandemic — which has pushed people into poverty and homelessness — has also put those resources in dire circumstances.

Though relied upon by thousands, the network of homeless shelters in San Antonio has been harshly affected by a loss of resources and financial assistance, too.

Jack, who declined to give his last name, has been homeless on and off for the past nine years. He has called the San Antonio Rescue Mission, a men’s shelter located on Quincy Street downtown, home for two years. 

“It's always clean. They don't take money from any government agency. So consequently, if you act like an idiot, you're only going to last about two days. Some people can't stand the structure because there's no TV, there's no radios, and so there's none of that stuff. But it is a clean place to sleep, and they'll feed you once, and they give you donuts and decent coffee in the morning,” he said.

The Rescue Mission was shut down in March, at the beginning of the city’s months-long concern about the spread of the coronavirus.

The San Antonio Rescue Mission has 40 beds, and CEO Jake Cherry said it reaches capacity almost every night. That, and the crowded common areas, make it hard for the organization to enforce the city’s social distancing recommendations.

Cherry said the limited space hinders their operation and the ability to maintain a safe environment.

“There's no way to get this 6-foot ruile in with the staff members, the preachers, the musicians that are there on a daily basis. We probably couldn't fit two people in and meet those space requirements,” Cherry said.

The Mission has been in existence for 45 years. In that time, it has sheltered over 250,000 people. The men’s shelter is funded by a coalition of churches, businesses and individuals. Even though the shelter was forced to close, the organization retained its staff.

“We have five live-in staff members that do all the cooking, cleaning, fixing everything, and they are all former homeless men. They receive a weekly paycheck. Everything is free room, board, clothes, toiletries, cable TV, everything. And we have been able to keep them with all benefits going,” Cherry said. 

Cherry doesn’t think the virus is anywhere near controlled in San Antonio, but he said the Mission will be ready to open back up quickly when the virus is contained.

“All we have to do is turn on the light and unlock the doors because we're set. Our team is still in place,” Cherry said.

The issues the Rescue Mission faced in the spring were not unique. Many shelters across San Antonio have closed or — like SAMMinistries and Haven For Hope —  had to limit their services, just as demand  increased.

With evictions back on the table, city officials expect to see more persons headed toward homelessness. Melody Woosley, director of the city’s Department of Human Services, said they’re gearing up.

“And we're certainly planning for it. One of our sister departments, Neighborhood Housing Services Department, (is) the department that has the Rental Assistance Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and I know that they have been staffing the (Justice of the Peace) courts to do evictions, making sure that someone is there,” Woosley said.

The Department of Neighborhood Housing Services focuses on homeless prevention. It’s emergency shelters like the San Antonio Rescue Mission and Haven For Hope which are left to deal with the existing homeless population. Each year, the city takes a head count of homeless persons. The last count was in January and estimated there were just over 2,900 sheltered and unsheltered people in the city. That number was only up slightly from the year before. The next count won’t happen until next year.

Until the situation improves, Jack will stay in a spot he's claimed in a downtown parking lot, working a part-time job to earn some money, waiting for the next opportunity to enjoy another decent cup of coffee in the morning.

Jerry Clayton can be reached at Jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @JerryClayton.

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