Mark Carmona speaks to the council. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mark Carmona speaks to City Council during a campus visit earlier this year. Photo by Scott Ball.

Mark Carmona, the highly-regarded CEO of Haven for Hope and a longtime leader in San Antonio nonprofit circles, is resigning his post at the end of the year to answer a calling that dates back to his now deceased sister’s missionary work in Honduras. Carmona’s sister was a Catholic nun with the School Sisters of Notre Dame order who worked as a missionary for 30 years, the last 10 years in Honduras before she died in 2004.

“It’s a faith-based move, for sure,” said Carmona. “This is a way for me to give back and to honor my sister, who asked me to help support the mission there if I was ever able to do so financially.”

Carmona said he is launching a local business venture to help families who have had their homes repossessed to recover their equity. Some of the profits from the venture, he said, will support the mission work, which ranges from schooling to communal farming support in rural Honduras. He plans to travel to Honduras sometime next year.

“The business I am starting is a helping business for people who have lost their homes and have some equity in their homes,” Carmona said. “Our business will help them get their money out of the house and we will take a small finder’s fee. People who lose their homes think about finding shelter for their families, not the complicated process of getting their money out. We can offer the expertise and help them get their lives back. And I can give back to my story.”

“We’re just sick about the news,” said William “Bill” Greehey, NuStar Energy chairman and the Haven for Hope chairman and treasurer. “Mark did an absolutely great job over the last three and a half years, and the progress we’ve made has been unbelievable. Mark’s a very religious person, a devout Catholic, and he told me this is God’s calling him to do this.

Greehey was a driving force behind the Haven for Hope’s creation nearly a decade ago. The Greehey Family Foundation has given more than $10.5 million to the Haven for Hope. He said the board supports Carmona’s unexpected decision:

“We told him we were sorry to hear about his decision, but if it’s God’s will there is nothing we can or should do. Mark did so well with all our community partners, the city and the state. Everything is going great. We are growing, our finances are in great shape, we are doing so well.”

William Greehey
William Greehey Credit: Courtesy photo

Carmona was hired as interim CEO in early 2012 following the retirement of then-CEO George Block, and he was given the job permanently that November. Before joining the Haven, he worked at the Center for Health Care Services, which serves individuals with mental health disorders, substance abuse problems, and development disabilities. The center operates the Prospects Courtyard at the Haven for Hope, where homeless people are provided with basic needs, including hot meals, access to bathrooms and showers, and outdoor safe sleeping. There are less strict requirements for gaining access to the Prospects Courtyard than those for entering the Haven for Hope’s Transformational Campus. Sustained sobriety or willingness to enter a 90-day treatment and counseling program, in particular, are not preconditions for overnight admission.

Carmona has been credited with providing strong leadership at the Haven for Hope, balancing compassion and service to the city’s most vulnerable residents, including the estimates 20% who are homeless veterans or single mothers with children, and also managing a complex and growing organization with an $18.6 million budget. The Haven annually graduates 300-400 homeless adults enrolled at Haven’s Transformational Campus for a period of 4-5 months and upon graduation move into housing and begin work at a job with a goal of sustaining self-sufficiency, sobriety and stability.

The Haven for Hope held a fifth campus anniversary celebration earlier this month, although the center’s roots reach back a decade now. The Haven’s 17 building,  37-acre near-Westside campus opened in April 2010 at a cost of $100 million, the culmination of a multi-year effort that began in 2005 under the leadership of then-Mayor Phil Hardberger. The effort began with appointment of Greehey and Patti Radle, co-founder of the nonprofit Inner City Development Corp. and a former San Antonio City Council member, to lead a mayor’s task force on hunger and homelessness. Establishing the Haven for Hope was a particular passion for Greehey, who served as CEO at Valero Energy from its founding in 1980 until 2006 when Valero was ranked a Fortune 15 company. He became chairman of NuStar Energy in 2001. He and his wife Louree established the family foundation in 2003, which has become a major philanthropic force in the city.

Committee leaders and members traveled to various U.S. cities to study different homeless services and centers as they set out to establish a comprehensive, one-stop center that would offer a full range of counseling programs and services to the city’s homeless population with the aim of helping people achieve sustained self-sufficiency. What sets the Haven for Hope apart from other local and national services is its many partnerships, which now number 92 different agencies, 32 of them with a physical presence at the Haven for Hope, and its comprehensive approach to treatment with the end goal being a return to stable life with employment and housing. A significant percentage of the Haven’s funding comes from the City of San Antonio, which has provided nearly $60 million since 2007, and will provide $7.5 million in its fiscal year 2015 budget. Campus area residents as well as the Haven’s enrolled population receive a range of free medical and counseling services, including physicals, dental work, and vision care.

“Mark has done an outstanding job. He’s brought compassion, stability and social service expertise to the job at a difficult time,” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley who serves as an ex officio member of the Haven for Hope board. He has really delivered.”

Mayor Ivy Taylor and members of City Council and staff visit the Haven For Hope in June. Photo by Scott Ball
Mayor Ivy Taylor and members of City Council and staff visit the Haven For Hope in June. Photo by Scott Ball

Greehey still serves as chairman and treasurer and Radle serves as vice chair of the Haven’s board of directors. Since its inception, the Haven for Hope has gained national and international recognized as a leader in homeless services and treatment, and the campus itself has hosted visiting professionals from several countries and all but a few states. Some other cities and states and programs now take a “housing first” approach rather than the Haven’s “treatment first” approach, but the Haven maintains that more than  90% of its graduates have remained self-sufficient and off the streets.

“Mark  had the right heart for the work, and a strong spiritual base,” Radle said.  “He was very good at growing with people. He had respect for the staff, the volunteers and the members who came to the campus for our services. He’s an amazing person and I’m sad to see him go, but I support his decision.”

Radle said the committee’s early visit to other U.S. cities with progressive shelter and treatment programs suggests a national search for Carmona’s successor could be found at one of the other nationally-recognized programs.

“There are people out there who have done this and could be considered for the job,” Radle said. “A person from the outside might not know the local scene, but they will know all about the culture that has to be created to win the trust of the people we are serving.”

There are an estimated 3,000 homeless individuals in the city, according to the January 2105 point in time count, and as many as half of them remain on city streets and unsheltered. Some suffer from severe mental illness. Others have substance abuse issues and refuse to enter programs or shelters that require sobriety. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and other city directors are working on a new comprehensive plan to deal with vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and the downtown homeless population, one that balances law enforcement with social services.

The Haven has had three CEOs since its founding. Robert Marbut Jr. served as the first CEO from 2006-2010 when Block was named to the post. Block’s retirement in May 2012 led to Carmona’s appointment as interim CEO and then the permanent CEO position. Greehey said the board’s nominations committee will meet next week to begin the search for Carmona’s successor. That search could once again lead to an individual in the local nonprofit world.

“The disadvantage with a national search is that candidates don’t know the community and they don’t know the donors,” Greehey said. “We’ll take a look to see who is available and we’ll get the ball rolling next week.”

Featured Image: Mark Carmona speaks to City Council during a campus visit earlier this year. Photo by Scott Ball.


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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.