Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The number of homeless people in San Antonio increased 12 percent over 2017, according to a one-night census taken in January, with 323 additional people living either on the city's streets or in shelters than in the previous year's count.
The increase was due largely to the census counting 246 more people living on the streets, according to data released Thursday by the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH). The group coordinates the local Point in Time Count, an annual count of homeless people without shelter or who are living in emergency facilities, transitional housing, or safe havens on a single night.
The numbers compiled during the census help provide a baseline for cities and organizations to obtain grant funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to combat homelessness. San Antonio’s count took place Jan. 25, and included more than 400 volunteers who collected demographic data to gain insight into reasons people are homeless.
Bill Hubbard, SARAH's executive director, said that gentrification, mental health concerns, substance abuse, and domestic violence are leading causes of homelessness, and that while there is some concentration of homeless people within specific areas, “homelessness is spread throughout every neighborhood” in San Antonio.
“It is very important when you are trying to determine an increase to look not only at this one-night snapshot, but also the deeper trends,” said Katie Vela, continuum of care director for SARAH. “That being said, seeing more people unsheltered is always alarming to us.”
The count found that City Council District 1, which includes downtown and the area just north of downtown, had the largest number of unsheltered homeless people, with 206. District 2, which includes the city’s Eastside, had 186 homeless people on the streets.
Collecting data on homelessness helps to increase awareness so that communities will see the importance of providing the financial resources needed to combat the problem, Hubbard said.
“Right now we have one outreach worker for every 150 homeless individuals,” Hubbard said. “You can’t do effective outreach with those kinds of ratios.”
Marta Peláez, director of San Antonio's Battered Women and Children's Shelter, said that 80 percent of homelessness in San Antonio is directly related to family violence. The shelter has had the highest daily census for five consecutive years among all shelters in Texas.
“Domestic violence is perhaps the single most important reason why the majority of homeless individuals are women and children,” Peláez said.
Hubbard told the Rivard Report that San Antonio does not have enough low-income housing or shelter space to accommodate its homeless population. He said that low-income housing throughout the city is nearly filled, with each facility currently at a 90 percent or higher occupancy rate.
“We are not in good shape when it comes to affordable housing,” Hubbard said.
While the census indicated a rise in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth and unsheltered people, the number of homeless veterans remained the same as in 2017.
The number of homeless families decreased by 4 percent (10 fewer families), and the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness decreased by 26 percent, with 173 fewer people having experienced homelessness for a year or more.
San Antonio’s homeless rate per capita, which looks at the number of homeless people per 10,000 people, is currently at 15.42 percent, below the national per capita rate of 17.