The South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH) will receive a $6.8 million grant to create new and beef up existing programs aimed at ending youth homelessness in San Antonio.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced at a press conference on Thursday that SARAH was chosen as a funding recipient for the department’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which was founded in 2016 to help urban and rural communities develop and expand innovative solutions to addressing youth homelessness.

 “We are not going to end homelessness doing business as usual,” HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Jemine Bryon said to a group of more than 40 gathered at the San Antonio College Student Advocacy Center to hear the funding announcement. “Young people experiencing homelessness or who come into shelters are often victims of abuse, fleeing family situations, or have experienced [human] trafficking. They are different than others experiencing homelessness and need innovative ways and new approaches.”

This is San Antonio’s third year applying for and first year receiving this funding, Bryon said, and this year it will receive the largest amount awarded in the grant’s three-year history, which includes funding a total of 44 communities to the tune of $151 million. In 2016, Austin was the only funding recipient in Texas, receiving $5.2 million. Waco County is also receiving funding this round, with $2.2 million going toward its youth homelessness prevention initiatives.

For the next four months, SARAH, together with partners including The Children’s Shelter, the Department of State Health Services, and area school districts, will meet to determine how to best utilize funds to fill gaps in services for homeless youth. These gaps include access to higher education, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and employment, SARAH Executive Director Brenda Mascorro told the Rivard Report.

“We have four months to work together to develop a comprehensive community plan that will address youth homelessness, that takes into consideration the needs that are unique to this population,” Mascorro said. “This includes listening to current and former homeless youths and hearing from them what they think our funding priorities should be.”

A Homeless Youth Action Board is a requirement for every city that applies for grant funding through HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, because “direct input from youth with lived experience is necessary to target affected youth,” Bryon said.

Kameron Rhys, a former homeless youth and one of seven members of SARAH’s Youth Action Board, said that a main challenge for San Antonio and Bexar County will be addressing the stigma surrounding homelessness that can lead to barriers or gaps in service.

“A lot of people who have not been homeless before think it’s a choice or something that you can easily get out of,” Rhys said. “I had to run away from my home because my life was being consistently threatened. We just really want our voices to be heard so that people understand what we are going through and have been through.”

The two-year, $6.8 million grant can be used toward initiatives such as supportive and transitional housing and programs with case management services and long-term mental health treatment, and recipients are encouraged to be “innovative” in their program approach. Once the funding has been used to create new or revamp existing programming, San Antonio and Bexar County will be eligible for just over $3 million annually to continue the initiatives.

Mascorro said that while news of the grant is “beyond exciting for San Antonio,” in order for San Antonio to be successful, community partners and helping organizations need to share “voices, ideas, and data,” in order to make lasting impact.

“The real work starts now. And we need to hear from anyone in the community who has something to say, because it will take all of us working together to make a difference,” Mascorro said.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

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