For people experiencing homelessness, finding a safe place to sleep and clean up is often their first focus. Once that important step is made, the priority becomes finding and applying for long-term housing.
The process can be daunting: meeting with case managers, filling out paperwork, consenting to background checks, and waiting. There is a lot of waiting.
Haven for Hope, a comprehensive homeless shelter and recovery complex on the city’s near-Westside, hosted its sixth-annual housing fair on its campus Thursday to introduce its residents to the services available to them in San Antonio and Bexar County.
The housing services fair hosted 45 city and county entities including nonprofit low-income apartment management companies, domestic violence prevention organizations, and interfaith organizations such as SAMMinistries. The event attracted more than 150 residents who are looking to find permanent housing in San Antonio or one of the surrounding areas.
Representatives of Merced Housing Texas, a nonprofit residential developer and property management company, attended the fair to hand out brochures and talk to prospective residents about their low-income housing options for families and seniors.
“(Merced Housing) strongly believes that no one should pay high rent,” said Tabitha Garcia, a property manager for two Merced locations. “We require (applicants) to submit an application, credit and criminal checks, proof of job security, and we also like to see positive rent history, something their case manager can help out with.”
There are a number of residents who have lived at her properties for more than a decade, Garcia said. The Elmhurst Place and Eleanor Place apartment complexes, both located near Broadway Street, are appealing to residents.
“People are looking for (good) locations, comfort, and pricing,” Garcia said. “You can’t find housing near Broadway for these prices otherwise.”
An efficiency unit at Elmhurst Place is $425 per month and a one-bedroom unit at Eleanor Place is $605 per month. A one-bedroom unit at the senior-living apartments Casas de Merced starts at $389. All of the locations have maximum and minimum income requirements according to Area Median Income (AMI) guidelines.
Frank Carrasquillo, a Haven resident, is on Social Security. He and his wife are trying to find low-income housing, a task that can be hard to accomplish in a big city like San Antonio, but he said he has hope.
“Me and my wife, we were down in Florida before this. We (were) on the street for two months and we couldn’t find anything like shelters or low-income housing,” Carrasquillo said. “But here, they have everything. San Antonio has been great.”
Angela Carrizales, a representative for St. PJ’s Counseling Center, and Heather Wood, a representative for St. PJ’s housing assistance programs, also came to the fair to speak with residents.
“We can house anyone who needs it. It doesn’t have to be someone with children,” Wood said. “We (have) housing options for the homeless or at-risk populations where we can offer assistance with rent, utilities, services, and case management.”
Project Ayuda, which operates out of St. PJ’s Counseling Center, offers emergency financial assistance and housing for families in distress. Additionally, a case manager is assigned to each family and services such as therapy, life skills classes, and advocacy are provided.
The housing assistance programs are for families or individuals without children who need rapid rehousing or homeless prevention resources. Each program requires a sustainable income and other requirements such as meeting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness or having an eviction notice.
Carrizales said St. PJ’s provides 35 homeless prevention units and 16 rapid rehousing units.
Joyce Walker is the aftercare manager for Haven. While short-term housing is necessary, she works to keep people in their homes. She and her staff locate and place residents in long-term housing and routinely check in with former residents to ensure that they remain in a stable living situation.
Because housing application fees can add up quickly, Walker said, the housing fair is first and foremost about asking questions and learning about housing options.
“Applications are expensive, so we want to bring down residents’ housing barriers, such as not having an income, so that they are really ready to apply for housing,” she said.
Ranata Schaller is a mother of two young children and five months pregnant with her third child. She has lived at Haven before, but her kids aren’t able to stay with her this time.
“I have four months to find somewhere to live so that I can get my kids back (from CPS),” Schaller said. “If I don’t find a place, I won’t get them back.”
Schaller said that her 4- and 5-year-old are special needs children and that the daycare at Haven, operated by the YMCA, can’t accommodate them while she works in the complex’s library. Laura Calderon, Haven spokeswoman, said that the YMCA daycare does accommodate special needs children, but on a case-by-case basis.
Schaller has been through the long-term housing application process before, but she said that it takes too much time – time she doesn’t have to spare before her kids might be put into the permanent care of Child Protective Services (CPS).
“It takes a long time for things to get through,” she said. “It’s not fair. If I can’t get my kids back, what’s the point of me living? What’s the point of me having this new baby?”
Shaller will go through the housing application process at Haven like she has before, she said.
She has a job. She is ready to have her kids back. She has hope.
“It’s up to God and me now,” Schaller said. “I’m gonna fight. I’m not gonna give up.”
Top image: Tara McClenic looks at her daughter Alexia, 17, as she speaks with a vendor at the Haven for Hope resources fair. Photo by Scott Ball.