Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) is forming a task force to explore issues related to homelessness in District 10.
While the group will focus on his district, Perry said he understands homelessness is a multifaceted matter that affects many parts of San Antonio.
Perry asked Diana Kenny, a school psychologist and business owner, to chair the yet-unnamed task force. Kenny was in the original field of 10 candidates that ran for the District 10 council seat this spring. Helping the homeless was one of her campaign issues.
“I’ll support her with whatever resources we can give her to get this thing moving,” Perry said. “It’s about reaching to those folks who are down on their luck, who need help. That’s our first priority, helping those people.”
Perry’s predecessor, Mike Gallagher, took on the topic of panhandling last year, filing a Council Consideration Request to see how the City could combat aggressive and so-called “career” panhandlers. But a ban on panhandling that would fine those that give and ask for money on the streets did not gain any traction, so the existing ordinance on panhandling was not changed.
Perry said panhandling is not the only concern. He said issues related to the homeless, and those on the verge of becoming homeless, are visible throughout District 10, which stretches from Austin Highway to north of Loop 1604.
“There have been a lot of issues in District 10, particularly with the businesses, but now the problem is getting into the neighborhoods,” Perry said.
“We’ve had vacant homes up for sale where homeless people became squatters, and that’s a big, big problem.”
Kenny said in order to finalize a plan for the task force, there are logistics to figure out, and conversations to hold with faith-based groups, nonprofits, agencies and other organizations that serve the homeless.
“Our ideas include looking for a measurable way to show the impact of our efforts,” she explained.
“We think it’s important to have data that shows our plan is working, in addition to information about why there is a need for additional options outside of Haven for Hope.”
Haven for Hope, based on the western edge of downtown, is seen nationwide as a model for successful public-private collaboration towards providing the homeless with comprehensive services. But Kenny said more and more homeless individuals and squatters are being seen all across the City.
“The Haven model meets the needs of a large percentage of homeless individuals in San Antonio, but it does not serve all, particularly those who are settling out in the suburban areas,” she added.
Haven for Hope President and CEO Kenny Wilson applauded Councilman Perry’s decision to start a task force. But Wilson hopes the task force becomes informed, early on, about the numerous ways the private and public sector are currently serving the local homeless population.
“There is already a lot going on. Homelessness is a multifaceted issue, with many agencies, nonprofits, businesses and faith-based organizations working together,” Wilson said. “But more can be done. We just want to be careful not to create something that’s already happening.”
Wilson agreed that homelessness affects many aspects of a person’s physical and mental health, regardless of where they are in town.
Wilson described one homeless man near the University of Texas at San Antonio who he has tried persuading to go with him to Haven for Hope. But the man’s mental health is so poor that he refuses to go, Wilson added.
Haven for Hope has a team that goes out to all parts of San Antonio and seek out those individuals who may need their help.
“It’s not a downtown problem, it’s a community problem,” said Wilson. “We’ll talk to panhandlers, people outside businesses, people living in the woods, and try to bring them to Haven.”
Neighborhoods bordering downtown, such as Dignowity Hill, are no strangers to the plight of the homeless. Several residents of the Eastside community discussed the issue during a meeting Thursday night.
Sgt. Dean Reuter of the San Antonio Police Department East Substation told residents that he has seen homeless people all around San Antonio, including Stone Oak and the far Northwest Side.
One issue, Reuter said, is that some homeless individuals may not want the help that’s available at shelters such as Haven for Hope, or from local ministries and the like. Mental illness and/or substance abuse do often impact these situations, he added.
“Haven for Hope isn’t for everyone,” Reuter said. “Some people need help. Some need help getting that help.”
Wilson said he could understand that public frustration with panhandlers. But he noted many non-homeless people have picked panhandling as their main or alternate source of income.
“Those people have many options available to them, including Haven for Hope, but they choose to do (panhandling),” he added.
The task force will discuss policies that could reduce panhandling, Perry said. “Our focus number one is helping people who need the help.”
One of the task force’s short-term objectives would be to work with faith-based groups to set up a regular time and place to provide food, medical care, and supplies to homeless individuals living in concentrated areas of District 10.
“Additional priorities include investigating housing options already available in San Antonio, which means putting together a team that can visit group homes in our area, gather data about the requirements, the capacity, and whether the homes are in compliance with the City ordinance for group homes,” Kenny said.
Kenny said she also would like the task force to partner with the SAPD’s mental health unit and HOPE (Homeless Outreach Positive Encounters) team for help in contacting and assisting homeless individuals safely.
“Our long-term goals include finding permanent housing for as many homeless individuals as possible and helping them move toward rehabilitation and a stable life,” she added.
Since Perry announced the task force’s formation, Kenny has heard from many individuals and community organizations wanting to participate.
“We hope to include as many people as we can while trying to remain a cohesive, manageable group that can stay focused on the goals,” she added.
Perry welcomes the idea of expanding the task force to explore homeless issues in other Council districts if his fellow Council members are interested in it.
Whatever ideas or recommendations the task force produces, it will be important to get input from neighborhoods affected greatly by homelessness, according to Brian Dillard, Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association president.
“Communities obviously need to be brought into the conversation. It can’t just be the ministries and the City,” Dillard said. “You’ve got to go further than that.”