Haven for Hope Outreach Manager Ron Brown shakes the hand of John, who has been homeless for more than five years.
Haven for Hope Outreach Manager Ron Brown shakes the hand of John, who has been homeless for more than five years. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

USAA officials announced Thursday that the company will contribute $1.3 million to help fight homelessness in San Antonio.

Veteran Chris Dupler transitioned from Haven for Hope to a permanent apartment for homeless veterans in March 2016.
Veteran Chris Dupler transitioned from Haven for Hope to a permanent apartment for homeless veterans in March 2016. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“The funds will be distributed among six area nonprofits,” South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH) Executive Director Bill Hubbard told elected officials and community leaders during the announcement at D.R. Semmes Family YMCA at TriPoint. “Those are the American G.I. Forum’s National Veterans Outreach ProgramHaven for HopeSalvation ArmyFamily EndeavorsSAMMinistries, and SARAH.”

USAA, the San Antonio-based insurance and financial services company that serves military members and their families, pledged $2.1 million last year in support of the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. In May 2016, San Antonio effectively ended local veteran homelessness by pushing a “functional zero” goal, Mayor Ivy Taylor said, giving all veterans access to permanent housing and rapidly stabilizing those on the brink of homelessness.

The funds announced Thursday will support homeless veterans and broader efforts for the general homeless population, officials said.

“The San Antonio Police Department is proud to be part of an eventual solution to the homeless issue here in San Antonio,” SAPD Chief William McManus said after thanking Taylor and Hubbard for their efforts. “I don’t know that any other city pays as much attention to it as we do here in San Antonio.”

USAA’s announcement falls on the same day as the annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the homeless population in San Antonio and Bexar County, which is conducted by SARAH. More than 400 volunteers will count both sheltered and unsheltered populations from 6 p.m.-midnight Thursday.
Point In Time from Rivard Report on Vimeo.

The PIT Count, mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides data on the overall homeless population on a single night. It is conducted nationwide in order for states to qualify for federal homeless assistance funds. It also helps city and federal agencies, local law enforcement, and nonprofits like SARAH pinpoint effective tactics to address homelessness in San Antonio.

Since the Obama administration’s release of Opening Doors in 2010, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness, homelessness has declined by 14%, unsheltered homelessness by 25%, and chronic homelessness by 27%.

The 2016 PIT Counts estimated a total of 549,928 homeless individuals nationwide, with 23,122 of them located in Texas. SARAH’s 2016 PIT Count reported that 2,781 people were homeless on a single night in San Antonio/Bexar County and 1,137 of those were unsheltered.

“From 2015 to 2016 San Antonio saw a decrease in homelessness population numbers but other Texas cities saw an increase,” SARAH Continuum of Care Programs Manager Katie Vela told the Rivard Report. “It was a slight difference, ours went down by about 100 [people].”

To read HUD’s 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress click here.

Although homelessness as a whole has decreased all over the U.S., SARAH staff told the Rivard Report that there has been a national and local uptick in young adult homelessness rates.

“In the last six months, 8% of all newly homeless individuals were between the ages of 18-24,” said SARAH Coordinated Entry Program Manager Luke Leppla. “What we are really hoping to gain from the PIT surveys is to see what is going on not just in San Antonio, but nationwide.”

This year, local organizers are utilizing a mobile app named “Counting Us” for the PIT Count. The app will record surveys as well as the GPS coordinates of where the survey was conducted, Leppla said. The gathered data will be sent to the TriPoint command center where it will be compiled on a big monitor with a map in real time.

“This is to get a sense of the geospacial distribution of the homeless in San Antonio, and the analysis parts come after,” Leppla said. “GPS tracking [helps us analyze] the concentration of people and what they have in common, but more importantly it will put some information in our hands as far as understanding different areas of town.”

Final PIT Count results will be available sometime in March, after Trinity University sociology students help scrub the data.

“HUD has a focus this year on increasing the accuracy of youth homeless counts,” Vela said. “They are notoriously undercounted because they are difficult to find and they are also especially at risk of sex trafficking and human trafficking.”

HUD data from 2016 shows that 31% (170,820) of the homeless population were youth under the age of 25, 21% of whom were not accompanied by a parent or guardian or were not a parent sleeping in the same place as their children.

Leppla said this year SARAH convened a special focus group of homeless young adults in order to understand what it’s like to be a homeless youth and learn new strategies about how to engage with this particular demographic.

What SARAH staff have found so far is that young adults care about their appearance, so many of them try to hide the fact that they are homeless. Carrying multiple bags or backpacks after sun down could be an indicator that the person doesn’t have anywhere to go, Leppla said.

“We are using homeless youth in our Thrive Youth Center program to help us find people on street that they know,” Vela said. In addition to the general count Thursday evening, SARAH staff helped conduct a homeless youth count on Tuesday.

“We’ve always done a youth [count] on a separate day,” Vela added. “Once all the counts process is over, we hold the numbers to make sure we didn’t duplicate.”

A woman peers through the roof of her shelter during the Point-In-Time count of the local homeless population.
A woman peers through the roof of her shelter during the Point-In-Time count of the local homeless population. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

According to Thrive Youth Center Executive Director Sandra Whitley, there are 9,000 homeless kids in schools, 1,200 of whom are unaccompanied. Across the U.S., Whitley added, about 1.6 million youth are homeless, 40% of whom identify as LBGTQIA.

“These kids are kicked out of their homes for identifying as LGBT – it’s an epidemic,” she said. In partnership with Haven for Hope, the Thrive Youth Center aims to provide a safe and supportive center for homeless LGBTQIA youth so they may become productive, skilled, educated, and successful adults with the opportunity of achieving their dreams.

“It’s impossible to count all the homeless in one day,” Whitley said regarding the PIT Count, “but we try our best.”

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...