Federal funding for the agency responsible for coordinating the programs and agencies that serve people experiencing homelessness in Bexar County grew by more than 20% over last year, officials announced Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH) more than $17 million, a $2.9 million increase over last year.

With that increase, SARAH has nearly doubled its federal allocation since it started applying for HUD’s Continuum of Care Competition Awards in 2016.

“I had to do a double take,” Katie Vela, executive director of SARAH, said of when she reviewed the numbers. “We got all of the funding we applied for … I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Vela was in Washington D.C. this week as part of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s SA to DC event, “to talk about the need to prioritize developing enough housing for our citizens.”

As the designated lead Continuum of Care agency for San Antonio and Bexar County, SARAH distributes the money to local service providers in the housing and homeless community.

The grant is the agency’s largest source of federal funding, and supports 33 local projects, including five new or expanded projects, Vela said.

“When we see these big increases, they become sustained funding,” she said. “So as long as we continue to perform well, that’s the amount we’re eligible for the next year.”

More than $7 million of the HUD funding will go to permanent supportive housing projects, which offer housing and recovery services to chronically homeless individuals.

HUD will distribute about $2.8 billion to Continuum of Care agencies across the U.S. That includes $80 million for programs that address youth homelessness, including unaccompanied and pregnant or parenting youth, and $54 million for programs for domestic violence survivors.

SARAH received about $2.75 million for projects assisting those fleeing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking, according to the agency’s news release.

The HUD grant process is competitive, but Vela said SARAH has been able to grow its share of funding thanks to a solid network of dedicated partners.

“What they’re really looking for is not individual program performance, but how well you perform together as one cohesive response system,” she said.

The Biden-Harris administration has proposed significant increases for homelessness mitigation and affordable housing next year as part of its goal to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025.

More and more, officials understand that homelessness is a housing program, said Vela, referencing a book by housing scholar Gregg Colburn and data journalist Clayton Aldern aptly titled Homelessness is a Housing Problem.

Substance abuse and mental health issues are all precipitating factors in homelessness, she said, “but if you look at the highest rates of homelessness … the causal effect is limited housing supply and increasing rents.”

The book uses an analogy of musical chairs to describe the problem: If Mike is injured and has to use crutches to get one of the chairs when the music stops, he’ll probably end up chairless, but “the fundamental cause of Mike’s chairlessness was a lack of chairs, not his ankle injury. The rules of the game meant that someone had to lose.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org