Haven For Hope celebrating 5 years of service

Combating mental issues, chronic homelessness still a challenge

SAN ANTONIO – What started as Bill Greehey's crusade to combat homelessness in San Antonio has turned into a sprawling 22-acre campus serving some of the city's poorest residents.

Haven For Hope turns 5-years-old this year and officials are celebrating its success while also acknowledging the challenges that remain.

"Haven For Hope is more than a homeless shelter. We consider ourselves a transformational campus," said Haven For Hope Ppresident and CEO Mark Carmona.

As of the most recent count, there were approximately 2,871 homeless people in San Antonio. Nearly 1,150 are unsheltered. Nearly 550 suffer from severe mental illness, and approximately 280 are military veterans.

The shelter has helped nearly 2,000 homeless residents find permanent housing and another 1,500 people have found employment. Carmona said 91-percent of those people are still in housing a year later and about 78 percent of those people who found employment are still employed.

Valerie Salas arrived on campus in October 2013. She was addicted to drugs and ready to end her life. Today she works at a local law-firm. She said her journey, and the staff members who helped her along the way is a testament to the shelter's physical and mental rehabilitation services.

"I wanted to walk out any second and just kind of just do things on my own again," Salas said of her first day on campus. "That connection was just so pivotal and vital for me, being in the care of someone who experienced my pain. "What this place allowed was a second chance at being successful and having a sense of purpose again."

While he applauded the work of his staff, volunteers, and the nearly three dozen partner agencies who work on the campus, Carmona said there are still plenty of challenges.

"I think it's truly understanding the nature of trauma, the nature of mental illness, how deep, how acute it is. It's how to engage those that are chronically homeless that are still out on the street," he said. "It's having enough and adequate affordable housing and the supportive services that need to go along with the housing."

On Wednesday Carmona gave a tour of the campus to City Council members. The shelter is in the midst of expansion. It's renovating a building on Martin Street next to its courtyard that will house a call center staffed by up to 100 residents. It will also provide housing to married couples who do not have children. Men and women are currently separated on campus.

Mayor Ivy Taylor said it was the city's responsibility to help Haven For Hope continue meeting the daily challenge of ending homelessness.

"I think we need to address the folks who don't make their way to the campus, who are still out in the community," she said. "How can we as a community come together to build the same kind of robust partnerships to maybe address some of their immediate needs and also how can we have more of a focus on intervention so that people don't end up homeless?