SARAH is the Continuum of Care Lead Agency for San Antonio/Bexar County responsible for local coordination and strategies to prevent and end homelessness. Haven for Hope is a transformational campus focused on addressing root causes of homelessness with a person-centered and recovery-oriented approach. The City of San Antonio Department of Human Services (COSA DHS) coordinates homeless services, including street outreach efforts and charitable feeding, and is working with the community on a new 5-year homeless strategic plan. The COVID-19 response effort presented unique challenges for San Antonio/Bexar County and the community pulled together quickly to activate plans to help people experiencing and at-risk of homelessness.
Many businesses, food pantries, and shelters closed in March to follow shelter-in-place orders and to implement safety protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19. Our community quickly assembled a response to an emerging need to deliver food to the unsheltered population. City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services (COSA DHS) acted quickly to establish “Homeless Resource Hubs” in locations throughout the city to provide food, water, ID Recovery, hygiene kits, showers, information on COVID-19, and masks to people living outside. The hubs are run by COSA employees, community volunteers and key partner agencies including Christian Assistance Ministries, SAMMinistries, Catholic Charities, Centro, and Corazon Ministries. The food and supply kits are set-up on tables at the hubs so that people can grab and go without making close contact with staff and volunteers. Since inception, the Homeless Resource Hubs have served over 31,000 meals to the unsheltered homeless. COSA DHS has also worked closely with faith-based community organizations providing services to the unsheltered amid the pandemic and coordinated their services to ensure people experiencing homelessness had access to food throughout the day. Additionally, Haven for Hope repurposed internal staff to conduct street outreach to encampments to deliver food and water from a truck while practicing social distancing.
Due to shelters closing and social-distancing concerns, COSA DHS promptly activated a “Homeless Connections” Hotline phone number. Internal city staff as well as SARAH staff began covering shifts for the hotline five days per week. Callers are triaged to prevention services or COVID-19 information. If the person is experiencing homelessness, they are assessed for financial assistance, shelter, or long-term housing through the local Coordinated Entry process, SAHomelink. Haven for Hope coordinates shelter referrals every week with the hotline to rapidly move people into a hotel for immediate safety.
Haven for Hope’s Campus and Courtyard sleeps over 1,700 individuals and families each night.
To create social distancing on the campus and allow those with medical vulnerabilities to safely quarantine and isolate, Haven for Hope acted quickly in partnership with the City of San Antonio to open a hotel to house 300 people per night. The Haven for Hope team offers services to residents in the hotel and connects them to permanent housing in the community. Many initial move-outs were assisted through a community referral partnership between SARAH and the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) to allocate 100 section 8 vouchers to people impacted by COVID-19.
The City of San Antonio, SARAH, and Bexar County Department of Economic and Community Development participated in a joint “coordinated investment” planning process to discuss how to distribute incoming Emergency Solutions Grant Funding from the CARES Act to support new street outreach, prevention, rapid rehousing, and emergency shelter projects. As part of this coordination, for the first time, COSA, SARAH, and Bexar County released a joint request for proposal for CARES Act Funding to ensure alignment of funding with priorities and to simplify the process for agency applicants. This collaboration with funding is a strategy that will continue to enhance the local work of preventing and ending homelessness!
SARAH hosts a weekly “COVID-19 Coordination Call” for all homeless service providers in the community. Regular report outs include the City of San Antonio, Haven for Hope, and the local Emergency Operations Center. San Antonio Metro Health, the COSA Department of Neighborhood and Housing, Bexar County, St. Mary’s Law, HUD Technical Assistance, and CentroMed attend and regularly share updates regarding testing, quarantine protocols, updates to CDC guidance, and resources to continue to connect people experiencing homelessness to their stimulus checks, ID recovery, and other services. SARAH maintains a temporary website page of updated resources and their operational changes due to COVID-19.
Katie Vela, Director of Operations at South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH) and Morjoriee White, Homeless Administrator, City of San Antonio Department of Human Services (DHS)