Haven for Hope Merits Greater Public Funding

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
Volunteers Kassandra Gonzales (l) and Angela Ramirez (r) on their way to hungry diners at the 2018 Ho Ho Hope for the Holidays dinner at the Haven for Hope on Dec. 6.

Robert Rivard / Rivard Report

Volunteers Kassandra Gonzales (left) and Angela Ramirez make their way to hungry diners Thursday at the 2018 Ho Ho Hope for the Holidays dinner at Haven for Hope.

I took a long walk of appreciation around Haven for Hope’s campus before entering the great hall to experience the Ho Ho Hope for the Holidays dinner served Thursday evening to the many homeless families and individuals sheltering there.

It was a spiritual experience to see so many vulnerable people happily enjoying a holiday moment and traditional meal in a warm, safe place, lifted up by gospel singing and the attention of dozens of giving volunteers.

This is the ninth year that NuStar Energy has sponsored the dinner, so it was no surprise that I saw the company’s founder and chairman, William “Bill” Greehey, posing for photos with attendees and volunteers and greeting Haven employees by their first names. Mary Rose Brown, the company’s executive vice president, was waiting tables nearby. Haven CEO Kenny Wilson was working the floor while San Antonio Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper was busy in the volunteer kitchen.

The bosses set the example.

There is no real way to convey the emotional experience of being with so many homeless people as they enjoyed a few hours removed from their travails, sharing the kind of rich, leisurely meal we take for granted. For one evening, they were made to feel like they matter.

They do matter. Everything the people of San Antonio and our elected leaders can do for them increases the likelihood they will get back on their feet to lead meaningful and dignified lives. It’s easy to dislike the homeless as many of us experience them: panhandling on downtown streets, begging at traffic lights, sleeping on sidewalks, or trundling along, unbathed and ill-dressed, pushing a grocery cart of belongings.

Many have addiction issues or are mentally ill and off their meds.

That is not what I saw Thursday evening. I saw people feasting and clapping to the music, hugging volunteers, visiting with friends. I saw many mothers with children and received more than one hug from a little boy or girl. There are too few good fathers in the homeless community; it takes only a smile and a few caring words to touch little hearts.

She is happy, but her brother isn't, as Santa Claus welcomes children at the 2018 HoHo Hope for the Holidays dinner at the Haven for Hope.

Robert Rivard / Rivard Report

She is happy, but her brother isn’t, as Santa Claus welcomes children at the 2018 Ho Ho Hope for the Holidays dinner at Haven for Hope.

I wish all of you had been there. I wish everyone on City Council who effectively voted against Councilman Rey Saldaña’s (D4) proposal Thursday to increase funding for Haven through a newly implemented hotel fee had been there. I wish all of this city’s hotel operators and others who prosper from our visitor industry had been there.

I am not saying San Antonio’s elected officials or visitor industry leaders lack empathy, because I don’t believe that. But it’s easy to say no in council chambers – where many of those leaders could be found Thursday making sure hospitality industry taxes were not shared with Haven for Hope.

It’s easy there to ignore the fact that the very public business of caring for the community’s most vulnerable in San Antonio is largely paid for with private dollars. That’s wrong.

Haven for Hope has a $20 million budget, 60 percent funded by private donors, 40 percent by government, notably the City of San Antonio. NuStar Energy, the organization’s largest private funder, has raised more than $38 million for Haven over the last 12 years. That’s been driven by Greehey, who personally has contributed $28 million since the Haven opened in 2010. What happens when Greehey eventually concludes his corporate service and steps back from his public life?

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other council members recognize that Haven for Hope is underfunded. It would seem reasonable for City and County officials to set a goal of reversing the funding ratio by increasing public funding to 60 percent and reducing dependence on private funding to 40 percent. In that process, the $20 million budget needs to grow.

There were 25 families ready to graduate from the Haven’s programs last week, Greehey said Thursday, but lacked an affordable housing option. Some are sleeping in offices and conference rooms because campus dormitories and apartments are filled. That, in turn, prevents newly arrived families sleeping in the courtyard from moving into indoor housing.

The irony is that other cities send teams here to adopt best practices from Haven for Hope and then return home to more generously funded programs.

It’s important to note that this is not money spent simply to feed and shelter the homeless. Haven for Hope is dedicated to the proposition that everyone willing to help themselves is capable of returning to society as a productive member. The tax dollars we spend pull people back from the abyss and give them and their children hope and a new start in life.

A mother and her two children arrive for the Ho Ho Hope for the Holidays dinner at the Haven for Hope.

Robert Rivard / Rivard Report

A mother and her children arrive for the Ho Ho Hope for the Holidays dinner at Haven for Hope.

Of course, there are people who fall down again, and there are many people who do not accept the Haven’s help because they are unable or unwilling to address addiction or mental health issues. Comprehensive treatment programs are not intended to end homelessness – a social ill that will always be with us. Haven for Hope aims instead to do the most it can for the most people in need and serve as the bridge for those people to regain control of their lives.

The services delivered at the 22-acre campus are comprehensive: drug counseling;  medical, dental, and vision care; job counseling; food and clothing.

How elected officials will find new funding remains to be seen, but it is money well spent. The hospitality industry, meanwhile, can do its part by paying all employees a living wage. They can become more transparent about their local charitable giving. The industry benefits directly from public investment in the downtown area. Without Haven for Hope, conventioneers and tourists would experience a very different downtown San Antonio. That is reason enough for them to step up their own giving.

Click here to donate to the Have for Hope.

18 thoughts on “Haven for Hope Merits Greater Public Funding

    • From the savings the City realizes when the firefighters start to pay a fair portion of their health care costs. Seriously, there are many innovative ways to allocate funds. One idea would be to complete the greenway trails with bond funds, thus freeing up the 1/8 cent sales tax for social services, such as funding the H4H and the Children’s Shelter.

      • I can’t tell if you are being tongue-in-cheek about your firefighter comment. If not, your solution to this problem is to make firefighters pay for healthcare so that we can further compensate the homeless? Before you publish an entire Sunday commentary on the over compensation of firefighters because of what happened in the mid term elections, please consider the following:

        In reference to the medical needs of firefighters as opposed to that of the general population, what they risk is not the equivalent to a “fair share” of what we all endure.

        Firefighters have a 100% higher risk of developing testicular cancer, 50% higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and a 28% higher risk for prostate cancer. Firefighters have been found to be more prone to 10 different types of cancer than the average civilian they serve. This is of course apart from the risk associated with falls, collapse, being struck by vehicles, and heat/smoke exposure while on the job. They give more, they should get more. Sounds very familiar to your argument for Sculley’s compensation.

        Should a family member who is a firefighter suffer one of the above issues and can no longer attend full time duty, the insurance coverage can be the difference in helping their family in that time for what they have already sacrificed – their health and ability to work. I support the full compensation of them, and of their families. They give their lives at a steady rate of 100+ fatalities/year nationwide, and over 80,000 injuries/year in the service of our communities. Just curious, how many city managers can you say that about?

        I understand completely that you are angry at and dislike Chris Steele, the union, and the decision of the public about propositions B and C. You have made this abundantly clear to your readers over the past three months. However your suggestion that firefighters are overcompensated so they need to pay their fair share, and the homeless (who don’t contribute or give their fair share to the community whatsoever) are not compensated enough is misguided.

        Those commenting about the teachings of Jesus and shaming others should remember that He would have preferred that you teach a man to fish, rather than to just give him one.

        I agree with you that giving to those in need is right. When you can do so without disrupting your own ability to maintain your life. It is the right thing to do – by one’s personal decision to do the right thing – because they have the means to do so. Forcing that virtue on the already increasingly tax burdened community as a whole in the form of a taxes for funding, is not what I support. The purpose of taxes is to provide services to the public who pay them. The homeless, who do not pay taxes still receive those services all the same. i.e. A firefighter would still save and provide first aid to a homeless person. As you pointed out the 40% contribution from public funding, we already all do support these institutions that give to the homeless. Likewise you cannot suggest that if we do not contribute public funds then no one will since a 60% majority of their funding is already private.

        I am on board with raising awareness about the problems and misunderstandings associated with homelessness, and suggesting that we all chip in because it is the right thing to do. As a journalist you have a unique position to effectively do exactly that. I think you are incorrect when you suggest that the firefighter’s compensation is the linchpin to this solution. Your ire for Chris Steele is coming off as a complete lack of appreciation for all of the people -not the union but the very real people- whose profession it is to risk their lives to save yours.

        • Richard,

          When a statement is followed by the word “seriously,” it usually indicates tongue-in-cheek.

          Please provide us with the original source on each of your claims about firefighter risk, particularly given that the majority of their work these days is not fighting fires but performing EMS duties. Even if all your facts prove true, why would that excuse union members from adhering to in-network physician lists like the rest of us? Why would it preclude members who average $145K a year from reasonable co-pays for their physician visits and prescriptions? Why do they need brand name pharmaceuticals at a much higher price when generics will do fine? Why can’t their spouses contribute, and opt for the most affordable benefits plan even if it is with their own employer rather than the City?
          Thank you.

        • “Those commenting about the teachings of Jesus and shaming others should remember that He would have preferred that you teach a man to fish, rather than to just give him one.”

          This is exactly the difference between Haven for Hope and a “typical” homeless shelter. Haven’s programs are all about teaching people to be self-sufficient while giving them a safe environment while they are learning these skills.

          Haven is all about teaching a man to fish, while feeding him, both spiritually and physically.

  1. Programs like Haven for Hope will always be under-funded. That is simply part of the reality of Social programs.
    It is a good question about what happens when Greeley steps back, but the answer is not “public monies.” The answer is, some other multi-Millionnaire in San Antonio that chooses to care about the situation.
    As far as the point about the hospitality industry, no they should not have to pay a living wage. Many of us remember waiting tables in high school, 20-30 years ago making $10-12/hour because tips pushed up our income from the $2.13/hour “pay” that we made from the restaurant. We educated ourselves and we chose to not make waiting tables be our forever job. If people choose to wait tables forever, then they also choose to live at that standard of living. They’ll know they need to work 50-70 hours per week to take home $2,000-3,000 per month. They could go study a trade because there is a large need for carpenters, electricians, glazers, and others in construction or manufacturing that make $20/hour or more. However, it is the individual’s choice of what type of job they want and what income level they want to achieve.

  2. They may be underfunded, but at least the city does fund them…The Children’s Shelter, I might argue, also serves “the most vulnerable “ and the city does not fund any program in our organization. Zero, Bob.

  3. What has made Haven for Hope work is the love and care of many who are passionate about reaching out to our city’s most marginalized. One selling point for the construction of Have for Hope was that it provided a way to get the indigent off the downtown streets where they creeped out tourists. It was a daily experience for me to leave my counseling office in the evenings at a downtown church to see people sleeping on the porch. Yes, it spooked me and some of my clients, but I was challenged to see past that and focus on the fact that they are fellow humans deserving of respect and help. Over the years I’ve heard countless case presentations from clinicians-in-training under my supervision who are getting excellent therapeutic experience working with individuals and families at Haven for Hope–and those stories reflect the progress of those served in getting back on their feet and back into a more functional level of living in society. It’s much more than just a place to put the homeless; it is a channel for healing and restoration. And, however it is funded, it is worthy of our support.

  4. Those who are against public funding for Haven should read Million Dollar Murray, perhaps you may think differently, I know I did. I can’t imagine programs serving the most vulnerable in our community believe it should be supported by private donations. What happens when leadership changes at NuStar?

  5. I disagree. Yes, programs and housing for people who are homeless need more public funding, especially at the state level. But, why should those funds just go directly to Haven for Hope without vetting? I used to oversee funding to homeless and low income housing and programming in a County in the NW. We never gave an entity funding without a RFP process. We vetted agencies based on their compliance to National, research based best practices and based on their outcomes. This is standard routine for how public dollars are usually given. We also made sure they complied to a housing first model ( best practice) – a dedication to put people who are homeless into housing straight away without requiring them to first be sober or go through programs. As they are placed and after they are placed in housing, they are provided wrap around services and harm reduction care to help keep them remain housed. Haven for Hope is not research based best practice for housing people who are homeless. They keep people homeless longer and keep people in shelter or homeless by requiring X, Y, Z of the people they serve. I’m not saying their hearts aren’t in the right place. Their model needs to change and the city’s process (or lack there of) for divvying up funding also needs to change.

    • I would love to personally give a tour to anyone who would like to come to Haven and see what we are and what we are not. I started the Docent program 9 years ago and have been privileged to see a remarkable program begin in our city to help address the root causes of why individuals are not living in the community of their choice or are not financially stable.

      I have done hundreds of tours over the years and I have never done a tour that someone does not remark, “I have read about you all in the newspaper, but, I had NO idea it was this big and had as many services to offer.” I toured 6 Army Chaplains 2 weeks ago and one of them said about 6 times through the 1 1/2 tour (yes, it’s that long!), “tell me again why every city in the U.S. is not doing this?”

      I only speak as a volunteer, I am not an employee, so I do not speak on behalf of the organization. Marian

  6. So many un-Christian responses! It saddens me in this season of joy & celebration of the birth of baby Jesus. If he were to return today he would say “you hypocrites! You den of vipers!” And drive you out of the temple. Bah Humbug to you hypocrites, and God bless Bob Rivard, Mr Greeley, & all others who choose to live their faith by actions not empty platitudes.

  7. The Haven for Hope needs more contributions. The question is: Do we want to give via private donations of time, money, and items _OR_ do we want some bureaucratic process dole out public money collected involuntarily by the city or other government.
    Of course, it will always be both, but I prefer donations myself.
    Although it is easy enough to find it, nowhere in the article above is an address (web or otherwise) for sending contributions.

  8. Agree 1000%!
    On the eve of His birthday we are reminded that “whatsoever we do for the least of our people, we do for Him”.
    Right on, Rivard! The money will take care of itself. He will provide.
    Totally agree with you!

  9. Haven for Hope does amazing things for people who can’t find help otherwise. With not enough funding they somehow make it work.
    I am an example of that. I have no substance or alcohol abuse issues, im not a victim of domestic violence and my children are now adults. As a single person without the issues mentioned before there is little help out there. I stepped onto the H4H campus on June 1 and moved into my own apartment on Sept 1. In those 90 days I was able to find a job, save money and gain the confidence it took to “re-boot” my life. The total compassion, amazing support and not having to worry every day what I was going to eat or where I was going to sleep made that possible! And, maybe most importantly, I was able to have my beloved pet with me the whole time. Knowing he was safe made it even more possible to do what I had to do to become successful. I will forever be grateful for all they did. The agencies St. Vincent de Paul and Dress for Success were extremely important to my success as well.
    Everyone of us is one natural disaster, life changing event or business failure away from homelessness. We are someone’s sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers & grandparents. We didn’t want to be homeless. And without H4H where would we be? Think about that. Go tour H4H. It will change your mind 100%

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *