A scene of a mother and her child hurriedly eating lunch at a table in Main Plaza on Tuesday was known to be performance art piece by the small group of nearby onlookers, but for passersby the scene may have seemed familiar one in downtown San Antonio.

As the boy picked at his fast food meal, struggling to eat while wearing two casts for broken wrists, his mother filled out job applications, not knowing what address to put down for her place of residence and considering using the address of one of her child’s friends.

“Hurry up and eat,” she said with tension and urgency, shoving her papers into a backpack. “We’re going to miss the bus.”

Houseless, Not Homeless, presented by homeless advocacy organization SAMMinistries, gave a glimpse into the lives of many San Antonio families who are homeless, or on the verge of homelessness, and the everyday struggles they face. The child in the performance represented just one of the 20,000 children in Bexar County who are affected by the growing epidemic of family homelessness.

“Overall homelessness went up by 3%, but family homelessness went up by 19% (between 2014 and 2015),” said Navarra Williams, SAMMinistries president and CEO. “A lot of people think, ‘Gosh, what’s wrong with that family, why can’t they cope?,’ but there are a lot of families in trouble. A lot of families here in San Antonio live paycheck to paycheck, and they’re just one little issue away from becoming homeless.”

With about 20% of San Antonio’s population below the poverty line, there are a large number of families who struggle to make ends meet, put food on the table, or keep up with monthly bill payments, leading to eviction. But homelessness doesn’t always mean living on the streets.

SAMMinistries President Navarra Williams gives interviews before the event. Photo by Scott Ball.
SAMMinistries President and CEO Navarra Williams gives interviews before the event. Photo by Scott Ball.

“A lot of families are homeless but we don’t see it because they’re doubled up or they’re sleeping in their cars,” Williams said. “So, even though what we counted was a 19% increase, that’s probably understated because (there are) families that are doubled up and are hidden.”

SAMMinistries puts an emphasis on homeless prevention services for families, couples, and individuals that are working toward a better life for them and their loved ones. Several representatives from the nonprofit were present on Tuesday to provide education about the resources available for the thousands of families who are on the verge of losing their homes.

SAMMinistries’ Homeless Prevention Program, which has kept 20,000 people and 12,000 children in their homes since its inception in 2008, offers rent and utility assistance and other supportive services to families and individuals with a stable source of income who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness. Those involved in the Transitional Housing Program receive support and resources to help them gain self-sufficiency over a two-year period. Other programs like Rapid Re-Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing also help individuals, families, or couples stay off the streets.

Services like these and more give direct relief to parents in need of financial assistance to keep a roof over their heads, but the Houseless, Not Homeless performance also shed light on the dangerous impacts the stressful environment of homelessness or near-homelessness have on children.

“Homelessness affects children dramatically,” Williams said. “They fall behind in school, they’re hungry, they’re more likely to be sick,” so raising awareness of the issue is key in giving hope to the city’s younger population.

For more information on all of the services SAMMinistries offers, click here.

Top image: Actors Gabrielle Mgeni and Rodney Baker take part in a performance piece used to convey the struggles of family homelessness. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com