SAN ANTONIO — A massive tent city cleared out of an underpass near downtown Wednesday morning is sparking concern among residents of a north-side neighborhood who fear the individuals kicked out of the underpass could soon set up shop in their neighborhood at the office of District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino.
For years people who live in the Dellview neighborhood have grappled with the issue of homelessness. Residents said Thursday they have reported instances of vandalism, theft, fighting, burglary and fires — all incidents they said were acts committed by vagrants in the area.
“(Trevino’s) office has just become a hot spot for a lot of homeless people in the area,” said Dellview resident Xavier Gonzales.
Though, Trevino disagrees.
“What’s happening is they’re being ping ponged from here to there with no one actually trying to do something to help them,” Trevino said of the city’s current approach to homeless camp abatement efforts. “We’re trying to help them.”
City officials on Thursday cleared out nearly 80 tents under I-37. Much like the residents of the Dellview neighborhood, Trevino agreed the city is simply relocating the homeless population versus actually addressing the issue. He claimed the city does not track where the individuals go following abatement efforts.
Noticing a gap in services, he said he has allowed vagrants to stay around his satellite office as his office connects the individuals with services.
“We’ve read the guidelines from the CDC and the CDC, has clearly stated, that dispersing people actually is more problematic and can spread the (coronavirus),” Trevino said. “So ,I don’t know what we’re doing. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Residents of the Dellview neighborhood said they understand the aspect of compassion Trevino is extending to the homeless, but said the initiatives have created problems in their neighborhood. Residents said they have documented incidents of individuals stealing packages off of their porches, individuals they believe are high on narcotics passed out in ditches as well as people defecating on or near their properties. While each said they have contacted the San Antonio Police Department, they said officers have told them they are under direct orders from Trevino, relayed to police chief William McManus, to not ask the vagrants to leave or to arrest them.
Asked about those claims, Trevino denied instructing police against intervening.
“What we’ve said is, if our police are called to to arrest the homeless person simply because they’re homeless, that’s not anything we support,” Trevino said. “And certainly our police don’t support that either. I got a call from a police officer a couple of weeks ago where this neighbor was asking the police officer to arrest somebody simply because they were standing around homeless. That police officers response was, ‘I can’t arrest somebody who is homeless. It’s not a crime.’ I simply support that. Now, if there’s a crime, I have no authority as a council member to to stop a police officer from stopping a crime. That is their job.”
With $32 million of the city budget earmarked to address the issue of homelessness, Dellview Neighborhood Association President Ernesto Salinas said he doesn’t see those services in action.
“I question where is all that money going to?” Salinas said, noting that he’s been told there’s “no place to put” the homeless.
Trevino said the city adopted an outreach first approach versus a housing first approach. Though, access to the services that exist can be difficult for thousands of individuals who live with mental illness, substance abuse issues or simply lack an ID.
“You cannot find perfectly homeless people,” Trevino said, telling the story of a woman who was fleeing domestic violence, but was turned away from a shelter because she tested positive for drugs. Trevino said he tried to get the woman a bed at a detox facility, but of the 28 beds the facility keeps, eight are for women. All of them were filled.
This is not a homeless community. This is a residential community. And really, I mean, I wish they tear down this building and move somewhere else.
“At the heart of this is that there’s gaps in mental health, detox and simple things like ID recovery,” Trevino said. “We’ve got to do better.”
Asked to give local leaders a grade on their current strategy in responding to homelessness in San Antonio, Trevino said “it’s hard to give it a passing grade.”
Against Trevino’s wishes, the city on Friday will clear out the individuals around Trevino’s satellite office.
District 2 councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan also spoke out in opposition to the city’s Thursday morning abatement efforts, writing “there’s too much money and resources for this to be the images we see today.”
“The removal of today’s homeless encampments demonstrates why a more strategic effort is needed to truly speak to the heart of the resources and housing needed for our vulnerable residents; not just a get up and move notice,” Andrews-Sullivan wrote. “We have been working with the Hope House and Under the Bridge Ministries on getting assistance for these families, only to see that today they have been displaced once again. This is not a display of compassion that they deserve. We had requested for dumpsters, port-a-potties, showers and more care resources. Even though there had been coordinated outreach and notification given to the families, this is not how we should be treating our most community of San Antonio. There’s too much money and resources for this to be the images we see today, those families deserve better.
The City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services released the following statement regarding abatement efforts:
All individuals our outreach teams speak with when assessing sites prior to or during abatement are entered into special mobile software that interfaces with HMIS, the inter-agency system for homeless providers. Through this data entry, we can track clients at every point they progress through the homeless system and see their housing.
There may be times when detox beds are at capacity, but even then, it does not take months to get people in. We always work with partners to improve the system, and if a client is willing to accept shelter and services, there is a path.
Meanwhile, the residents of the Dellview neighborhood are left wondering who they can lean on for relief.
“Who’s working for us? That’s my question,” Salinas said. “Who’s going to listen to us? Who do we turn to?”