Participants and a police officer in the Point in Time Count approach a homeless man, asking if he needs help.
Volunteers and a police officer approach a member of the homeless population during the annual Point in Time count in January. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The homeless population in Bexar County decreased by 6 percent over the last year, according to a report released last week by the San Antonio Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH).

An annual count of homeless people who are living either on the city’s streets or in shelters occurred on Jan. 24 and included more than 400 volunteers, who collected demographic data to gain insight into reasons people are homeless. The numbers compiled during 2019 Point in Time count help provide a baseline for cities and organizations to obtain grant funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to combat homelessness.

In 2019, 2,892 were counted as homeless, including 523 children. The previous year, the count showed more than 3,000 people were homeless in Bexar County, 500 of whom were children.

While the overall number of homeless decreased, the number of homeless families increased 18 percent to 274 families, up from 232 in 2008.

“Through PIT count results and collaboration with partner organizations, we found that domestic violence and a lack of affordable housing options are contributing to the increase in the number of homeless families, said SARAH Director Brenda Mascorro. “Because of this, families will be our major population focus in 2019.”

SARAH is the local homeless authority that works to create data and secure federal and nonprofit funding to help organizations who work with the homeless, including Haven for Hope, the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, and SAMM Ministries.

San Antonio Regional Alliance for the Homeless Executive Director Brenda Mascorro
San Antonio Regional Alliance for the Homeless Executive Director Brenda Mascorro Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mascorro said SARAH created a work group that will focus on rehousing families and will be hiring a full-time employee to begin analyzing domestic violence data in San Antonio and determine what interventions will be most successful.

While local families appeared to be struggling to maintain permanent housing, fewer veterans lacked housing, according to the report. San Antonio and Bexar County saw a 6 percent reduction in the number of homeless veterans.

Mascorro said the improvement was due in part to a $2 million gift to SARAH from USAA to help fund housing programs for homeless veterans in the community.

“When we sit down and get into the data [from the PIT count and partnering organizations], we see where we need to increase our outreach and improve our coordination among service providers,” she said. “The improvement for veterans highlights what we are able to do” with funding targeted to specific homeless populations.

Improved coordination among providers was behind the 28 percent reduction in the number of chronically homeless individuals, defined as having experienced at least one year of homelessness, Mascorro said.

“It really takes a community and so there’s a lot of different systems that interact with our nonprofits,” said Katie Vela, SARAH continuum of care director. “That could be mental health services, hospitals, jails.”

Local shelters worked together to house 759 people experiencing homelessness in 2018, according to the report, and of those housed, 98 percent maintained stable housing for at least a year.

“We work not only to house people, but we also work to address those issues that affect homelessness in order to reduce the likelihood it will happen again,” which can include drug abuse, trauma, and poverty, Mascorro said. “The city really stepped up [its collaboration efforts] this year, and we are seeing that in these numbers. But there is a lot more we still need to do.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.