Rise in homelessness causes stress at Haven for Hope

0

A record number of homeless families, children and single women filled Haven for Hope this summer, leaving hundreds to sleep on mats on the downtown campus floor.

Kim Jefferies, president and CEO of the 12-year-old facility’s nonprofit, said more than 1,600 people are housed in the 12-year-old facility, which was built to house 1,450 people.

“The biggest concern for us is the influx of families,” Jefferies said. “It’s really the influx of single women and families that we’re seeing right now, beyond the normal rhythm that’s happening throughout the year.”

Since she became executive director in November, the number of children at Haven has more than doubled, from fewer than 150 to 305. About 120 children sleep on the floor with their families, and nearly 200 single women sleep in the campus resource center. separated for their safety.

While the situation protects them from the street, it doesn’t provide the quality of life Haven strives for, Jefferies said. The 102 family dormitories are full, and Haven has 60 families sleeping on the chapel floors, classrooms, and other common areas.

According to his overflow plan, the facility can accommodate up to 1,800 people.

“You can imagine having kids sleeping in a room with lots of other kids on the floor and families. It’s not an ideal place for that,” Jefferies said. “And then they get disturbed during the day because they don’t have a room to go back to … a place to keep their stuff.”

Kim Jefferies, President and CEO of Haven for Hope, said the downtown campus has exceeded its planned capacity with more than 1,600 people staying there. Of most concern, she said, is an increase in the number of families, children and single women in the summer.

Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express News

Jefferies revealed the situation last week when Bexar County commissioners approved $3.9 million in housing funds for various projects. It included $50,000 to support the local Homeless Management Information System, a state-mandated database that tracks individuals at 50 shelters and nonprofits that provide assistance.

Haven is the leading agency in the system.

“We’re dealing with a capacity issue,” Jefferies told the commissioners. “It is important to know that we are witnessing some unprecedented numbers.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said homelessness is “one of the most difficult issues we face” as more people sleep in tents or on sidewalks next to vacant downtown storefronts. This is despite the county providing millions of dollars in housing, rent subsidies and other assistance.

Jefferies said she expects the Haven overflow to continue at least through the fall and winter. The facility will continue to accommodate families and provide access to meals, showers and basic services on campus to help them achieve financial stability.

“We are the only animal shelter in this community that is committed to never turning away a family,” she said.

A woman who recently stayed on campus for nearly four months said she and other single women struggled to sleep on the resource center floor, where about 100 women shared two sinks and four bathroom stalls.

“A lot of the women cry themselves to sleep every night. The sound is heartbreaking,” said the woman, who is no longer at the shelter and didn’t want her name released.

Kim Jefferies, President and CEO of Haven for Hope, said the downtown campus has exceeded its planned capacity with more than 1,600 people staying there.  Of most concern, she said, is an increase in the number of families, children and single women in the summer.

Kim Jefferies, President and CEO of Haven for Hope, said the downtown campus has exceeded its planned capacity with more than 1,600 people staying there. Of most concern, she said, is an increase in the number of families, children and single women in the summer.

Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express News

Jefferies attributed the rise to inflation and the expiry of eviction moratoriums earlier in the year. She is confident that the city and county will consider allocations for rent, utilities and mortgage support in their budgets to keep families in their homes. She wants more federal aid for shelters like Haven, “which may need to increase capacity to meet demand — not just today, but in the future.”

Another potential solution, emerging in weekly “homeless huddle calls” with the city, county and other nonprofits, could come from the faith community, Jefferies said. Churches with underutilized facilities “could be part of a solution when there is a temporary influx like this, especially of children and families.”

While there is no “significantly high estimate” of the number of Bexar County’s homeless residents, some have put that number at around 8,000 — a number Jefferies said makes “reasonable.” In addition to serving vulnerable homeless people, Haven serves about 7,000 people who stay about four months in an average year.

Jefferies, a lifelong San Antonian, said she was “shocked and heartbroken many times” by the scale of the homelessness and is trying to make it a top priority.

“The services that Haven and our homeless service system provide to this community are beyond what anyone really knows,” she said.

[email protected]

Share.

Comments are closed.