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

It was City Hall Day at the Haven for Hope on Wednesday, the near-Westside shelter and comprehensive service center for the homeless that first opened just off Frio Street in 2010.

It was the first field trip for newly-elected Mayor Ivy Taylor and eight members of the City Council. City Manager Sheryl Sculley, senior staff, and Police Chief Anthony Treviño and Fire Chief Charles Hood were among those in attendance. Haven for Hope quickly gained recognition as a national and international model, yet concerns have been voiced about the campus and its impact on the neighborhood. 

Individuals associated with the Haven for Hope’s beginnings, including its founding Chairman Bill Greehey, gathered on campus Wednesday to brief the City Council and staff on the facility’s progress over its first five years.

William Greehey
Bill Greehey Credit: Courtesy photo

The City is a major funder of the Haven for Hope and Sculley serves as an Ex Officio member of the board of directors. Greehey, chairman of NuStar Energy, was a driving force behind the creation of the Haven for Hope, and donated several millions of dollars to help fund it. NuStar employees have since raised more than $23 million more for the shelter and its programs.

Haven for Hope is basically two things: the Courtyard is a low-barrier, safe-sleeping program that offers overnight shelter and meets basic food and hygiene needs. The Transformational Campus is a “one stop” center that offers shelter and a broad array of services addressing the root causes of homelessness. The goal is to help individuals to transition back to self-sufficiency and productive, healthy lives.

One former client, Valerie Salas, told  Mayor Taylor, Council members and staff how the Haven for Hope changed her life. Salas talked of struggles that began in childhood with an abusive father that led to alcoholism and drug addiction, overdoses and hospitalizations, and suicide attempts. Salas, a mother, saw incidents of domestic violence lead to intervention by  Child Protection Services. Eventually, she found herself on the streets.

“It was really a dark series of ugly events,” Salas said, until she was introduced to Haven for Hope two years ago. She met a recovering addict during Intake who made her feel welcome.

Valerie Salas speaks to the council. Photo by Scott Ball.

“It made me feel hopeful,” Salas said. “At Haven, I was given every resource to grow and be successful,” including medical attention, counseling and learning coping skills, among other tools.

Salas has been sober since October 2013 and has regained custody of her children. She now works for a local law firm, is studying to earn her GED, and planning to continue her education, hoping it eventually positions her to help other addicts enter into recovery programs at Haven for Hope.

“This transformation that Haven offers is very real,” she said.

Salas is among the 2,200 “transformational graduates”, as Haven officials call them, who have exited the facility to permanent housing and after one year, have stayed sober and not slipped back into homelessness.

Council members Joe Krier-D9, Mike Gallagher-D10, and Alan E. Warrick, II D-2 speak while Bill Greehey passes at Haven for Hope. Photo by Scott Ball.

Some homeless people in San Antonio will not go to Haven for Hope. Entry into its Transformational Campus requires sobriety or an individual’s willingness to enroll in a 90-day recovery program. Some homeless people are unwilling to undergo detoxification and counseling programs. Police and City officials oppose panhandling and street feeding programs, however well intended, because they enable addicts to survive on the street without entering self-help programs. Critics of those policies believe individuals should be free to extend a helping hand to vulnerable individuals. It’s a complex debate.

What is not open to debate is the transformational change the Haven for Hope has offered so many formerly homeless people. That places San Antonio at the forefront of cities seeking innovative ways to address homelessness, and countless delegations for U.S. cities and foreign cities have visited the Haven For Hope to study its structure and methods.

Greehey cited the graduation rate as a major milestone for Haven in its first five years. He also talked about San Antonio before Haven for Hope existed, and how he wanted to give back to the community after stepping down as chairman and CEO of Valero Energy 10 years ago. The Greehey Family Foundation has since awarded tens of millions of dollars in charitable contributions throughout the city.

Greehey said then-Mayor Phil Hardberger challenged business and civic leaders to establish a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. Until then, he recalled, the solution was to jail them for petty misdemeanors such as urination in public or loitering, or offering them temporarily shelter without addressing their long-term needs.

“We were feeding, clothing and sheltering the homeless, but we weren’t getting at the root cause to help these individuals achieve productive, independent lives,” Greehey said. ” We were just recycling.”

Greehey thanked current and former city leaders — especially former District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle, co-founder with her husband Rod of Inner City Development, a Westside non-profit that serves area residents in need — who were instrumental in helping to transform an abandoned 22-acre site into a facility that can house more than 1,500 homeless people daily.

Here are some other milestones cited by Greehey:

*More than 4,000 people have been taken off the streets, and moved from the Haven’s Courtyard into higher levels of care.

*The facility’s Restoration Center has provided more than 35,000 detoxification, sobering and medical services, resulting in $50 million in documented “cost avoidance”.

*More than 40,000 people have received medical, dental and vision care yearly, with such care going to mostly working poor residents in the surrounding neighborhoods;

*The jail recidivism rate for residents of the Transformational Campus is 24%, and 32% in the Courtyard. The average Bexar County Jail recidivism rate is 80%. Haven CEO and President Mark Carmona said not one “life-threatening” event has occurred on campus, adding that police help maintain security on campus and in the neighborhood.

Melody Woolsey addresses the council at Haven for Hope. Photo by Scott Ball.

Melody Woolsey, director for the city’s Human Services Department, said people often become homeless after being released from prison or losing government-provided subsidies. Many veterans have a hard time finding  housing immediately after leaving military service, she added.

“We find that 10% of our homeless are veterans and another 10% are families,” she said, noting that the lack of affordable housing is another problem.

What does help, according to Haven officials, is keeping tabs on the local homeless population. That’s why the annual point-in-time count matters. It’s an effort by city and county departments, state and federal agencies, and relevant non-profits and churches, to determine a more exact number of homeless in shelters and on the streets.

There are less than 3,000 homeless people in the city, according to the point-in-time count held in January, and of 2,871 homeless people counted, 1,158 were being sheltered. Approximately 566 were categorized as “severely mentally ill” and 284 were listed as veterans. Approximately 452 were counted as chronic substance abuse issues, 367 were victims of domestic violence, and 264 families were counted in shelters. The downtown homeless count tallied 175, up from 120 recorded in 2014 but down from 738 in 2010 before Haven opened.

“This is why the point-in-time count is so important,” Acting Police Chief Anthony Treviño told City Council. ” It’s to see how many homeless people are out there and what resources they need.”

He echoed Carmona’s sentiments that the police department works to maintain safety levels inside and outside of the Haven for Hope.

Police Chief Anthony Treviño addresses the council at Haven for Hope. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We also know public safety fosters economic development,” Treviño said, referring to commerce and new residential developments in the area.

Operating on a 60-year ground lease and agreement with the City, Haven for Hope officials remain committed to increase efficiency in feeding the homeless, ending veteran homelessness, and bolstering outreach to downtown homeless individuals. Woolsey said Haven’s partnership with city departments, including as San Antonio Public Library and San Antonio Animal Care Services help staff to raise literacy rates and to protect pets of homeless members, respectively.

Haven for Hope continues to fine tune its services and outreach and treatment approaches. Current programs include in-house recovery and mental health wellness, jail outreach, use of peer support specialists, and caring for people who attribute homelessness to some other trauma, such as coming from a home with divorced parents.

Haven residents, in turn, volunteer on community projects, and some learn to give back to the community through a fourth-year residency at the San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic on campus.

“We see community dentistry as a big need,” said Carmona. Also, the Haven is working with the Thrive Youth Center to dedicate dorm space for homeless members of the LGBTQ community.

The facility is growing, thanks to the purchase and current renovation of a building at 1231 W. Martin St. That’s where the Culture Service Growth call center, already on site, plans to expand and hire more Haven residents

Other plans call for an integrated courtyard health care clinic, due to open in July, working with a Subway food franchise to hire some Haven residents, and creating an on-site pediatric dental clinic.

“One of our greatest strengths is that we’re a learning organization,” Carmona said. “We look over data qualitatively and quantitatively to determine if we’re hitting our marks to address the root cause of homelessness.”

Mayor Taylor joined her colleagues in lauding the work that has made Haven for Hope a success.

“But we also step back and see how we can ramp things up here,” she said, joining council members in a tour of the facilities.

Mayor Ivy Taylor walks with members of city council and Haven for Hope staff during a tour of the facilities.  Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayor Ivy Taylor walks with members of city council and Haven for Hope staff during a tour of the facilities. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Featured Top Image: Mayor Ivy Taylor along with the San Antonio City Council take a tour of the Haven For Hope Prospects Courtyard led by Mark Carmona CEO of Haven for Hope.  Photo by Scott Ball. 


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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.