The city of San Antonio removed eight people experiencing homelessness who were staying on the City Council District 1 field office’s property, officials said.

Camping in public spaces is prohibited and neighbors have reported criminal activity there, including drug use.

The homeless abatement, or sweep, originally was scheduled to take place about five months ago. Then-Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) called a press conference in protest, during which a frustrated neighbor confronted the councilman and jeering activists.

City crews never showed up to clear the small encampment at 1310 Vance Jackson Road in the Dellview neighborhood — until last Monday, July 12.

Councilman Mario Bravo, who took over the District 1 seat last month, worked with the city’s Department of Human Services and other homeless resource agencies to try to get the people sleeping there assistance ahead of the sweep. Officials say one of the eight people accepted services last week. There were no arrests.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody who was qualified was on a housing waitlist and that they were in the system,” Bravo said Wednesday, noting that many who regularly stayed on the office’s lawn were not.

Clearing out the field office property was a campaign promise for him, but he acknowledged that there is more work to do toward reducing homelessness.

“There are still people who are experiencing homelessness and need help. Also, there are criminal elements out there in the Dellview area that need to be addressed,” Bravo said. “Then there [are] criminals who are preying on the homeless over there, so it’s a combination of issues — it’s not just one issue.”

His constituency includes individuals experiencing homelessness, and he wants the field office to be welcoming to everyone.

Wednesday afternoon, a woman knocked on the field office’s door seeking shelter. A staff member answered and called Christian Assistance Ministries, which sent a car for her to be picked up. Bravo also spoke with the woman, who declined to have her name published, citing safety concerns.

City Council member Mario Bravo (D1) speaks to a homeless woman, who wished to remain anonymous, outside of his field office on Wednesday.
Councilman Mario Bravo (D1) speaks to a homeless woman, who wished to remain anonymous, outside of his field office on Wednesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The timing of the sweep had more to do with other resources becoming available in the community than his taking over the field office, Bravo said.

The city recently partnered with SAMMinistries to operate a temporary shelter at a Days Inn hotel, and the nonprofit Corazón Ministries opened a day center and resource hub downtown at Grace Lutheran Church last month.

“Part of our strategy, not just for D1, but also other encampments [citywide], is that we want to make sure we have sufficient shelter options … [and] that we had the ability to provide the right level of service for some of the folks who are more vulnerable,” said Melody Woosley, director of the city’s Department of Human Services.

The city will continue to monitor the field office and coordinate services with area nonprofits and the council office, Woosley said. “The plan is that as we have more options, then [it will] increase that percentage of people who accept services.”

As the coronavirus pandemic gripped San Antonio last year, the city and partner agencies worked with area religious congregations to reach homeless populations outside downtown.

“That wasn’t something that was going to become permanent,” Woosley said, but the mobile homeless resource teams that reached out to encampments could become part of the city’s strategy.

San Antonio launched a citywide homeless outreach program this year funded by federal coronavirus relief money and $560,000 from the city’s budget. The program, largely based on a pilot project Treviño started within his office, pays for an outreach specialist for each City Council district.

“We’re in that planning process now on how do we get services out of downtown,” Woosley said. Staff is looking for possible permanent hub locations “so that homeless individuals would know: this week, here’s where I can get services in the area.”

In the meantime, no sweeps are currently planned for major encampments, she said.

While the city has its own ban on public camping, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a similar bill last month that takes effect Sept. 1.

The law bans camping in unapproved public places, punishable by a fine of up to $500. It requires municipalities to seek state approval to designate government land as encampments. Under the law, parks cannot be designated as encampments.

The new law, which requires outreach and notice to encampment residents ahead of sweeps, likely won’t change what the city already does, Woosley said. “It’s pretty neutral to us.”

Police officers still have discretion on enforcement, she said, but the law says a city “can’t direct officers not to enforce it.”

Iris Dimmick

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