Members of the homeless population were given care packages including toiletries, snacks, and clean socks.
A California-based company has been hired to create a comprehensive plan on how San Antonio can properly serve the homeless through public policy. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio City Council unanimously approved a $128,898 contract Thursday with Homebase, a nationally recognized public policy consultancy firm, to develop a comprehensive strategic plan on public policies to address homelessness.

The San Francisco-based firm will work with City departments to produce a report over the next six months that will identify gaps in homelessness services and provide policy recommendations for systemwide improvements, said Melody Woosley, director of the City’s Department of Human Services (DHS). The report is expected to be completed and presented to the Council in early April.

Bexar County saw a 6 percent decrease in sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in 2018, according to a one-day count earlier this year when 2,872 individuals were counted. The percentage of families experiencing homelessness, however, increased by 18 percent.

The plan is a direct result of a promise City Council made last year to look into finding sustainable resources for homelessness mitigation. That pledge stemmed from a conversation about whether a portion of a new hotel fee should be diverted to support nonprofits that address homelessness.

The City convened stakeholder groups – including homeless advocates, representatives from the tourism and business community, and faith-based groups – to start devising a funding and policy strategy. Homebase will formalize those discussions and bring best practices into the mix to complete the plan, Woosley said.

The city’s current emergency response network for homelessness, which includes nonprofit and faith-based groups, starts with homeless prevention, Woosley said. “When we can’t [prevent it] we look to rapidly rehouse them,” she said.

After speaking with City staff about the work it currently does to mitigate homelessness, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said he thinks DHS should be able to produce a strategic plan in-house rather than spend money on a California company.

“They don’t know San Antonio,” Perry said. “[DHS staff] are the experts … they told me where the gaps were.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The four employees that are dedicated to homelessness issues in DHS are already working on several other initiatives, Woosley said.

“In order for them to do something like that, we would have to roll back – really go backward” on initiatives now underway such as rehousing, working with Haven for Hope, the city’s largest temporary shelter and service center, and other collaborations, she said.

Homebase was selected out of six applicants through a rigorous review process, Woosley said. “Their expertise is what we need to really come up with  usable and measurable strategic plan.”

But Perry said he received calls from constituents who don’t trust Homebase because it is a company based in a city and state with some of the worst homelessness problems.

That experience in crisis is what makes Homebase a good choice, Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said, noting that it’s similar to picking a doctor or researcher who has seen the worst of the worst.

“We don’t turn them away because they happen to work on the front lines,” Pelaez said.

While the consultant will be in charge of engaging local entities and writing the plan, Woosley said, “it’s the community’s responsibility to implement the plan.”

Despite those concerns, Perry ultimately voted in favor of the measure with his colleagues. Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) were absent during the vote.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...