The City of San Antonio will begin housing older and medically fragile homeless people in a 300-room hotel as soon as this week, officials said Tuesday.

As homeless shelters closed their doors to new residents last month and religious groups halted feeding programs in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the homeless population find themselves with fewer resources to survive and avoid contracting the virus.

“Obviously, one of the most urgent needs is food and shelter,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “I’m very glad to see the quick work. … There’s no reason why we should have folks in this situation – on the street – when we’ve got thousands of empty hotel rooms.”

Haven for Hope, the city’s largest homeless shelter, and the American GI Forum, a veterans group, will help staff the facility, while the San Antonio Food Bank will provide meals, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told City Council. The facility will allow homeless people to reside in isolation, preventing possible coronavirus spread.

On-site mental health monitoring and medical support also will be available, Houston said.

City officials did not immediately disclose the location or name of the hotel being used as a shelter. The cost to use the hotel is nearly $1.7 million, she said. Roughly $770,000 will fund staff, security, and onsite services, she said.

“Due to the emergency nature of these contracts, the sensitivity to the health conditions of the individuals and the continued negotiation of these and other properties, the City will not be naming the hotels or their locations at this time,” Houston added via email Wednesday evening.

Funding for the hotel and another temporary overflow shelter comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The hotel will prioritize homeless veterans over age 55 and those with underlying conditions, but it also could host families, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said.

The facility’s occupants also will include victims of domestic violence, Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) told the Rivard Report.

The City will launch a hotline devoted to connecting residents with housing and food resources on Thursday.

Between increased federal funding and funds the City is no longer using on other programming amid the crisis response effort, San Antonio has more than $14 million currently devoted to mitigate homelessness and offer rent/mortgage assistance, Houston said.

The need for such funding is expected to exceed that, she added.

The City has more than $14 million dedicated to homelessness and housing cost relief.
The City has more than $14 million dedicated to homelessness and housing cost relief. Credit: Courtesy /. City of San Antonio

The hotel and overflow shelters are in addition to ongoing efforts to feed and inform homeless individuals about the virus at recently established resource hubs and encampments across the city.

Those outreach efforts include screening for the virus, Houston said.

If needed, the City and County have finalized agreements with at least four other hotels and on-call facilities to accommodate a surge in people who test positive and either don’t have a place to stay or need help managing symptoms of the virus, according to a presentation by San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood.

This surge capacity and other so-called “isolation facilities” for first responders will decrease the burden on area hospitals as they see more serious patients who require hospitalization, Hood has said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org