Outreach seeks to protect homeless from floodwaters

City officials work with Haven for Hope to warn potential victims

SAN ANTONIO – After three outreach workers with Haven for Hope came upon a homeless encampment beneath an underpass near downtown, a few of them quickly walked away.

“They were just afraid. They thought SAPD was with us right now,” the Rev. Ron Young said.

But then he and the other workers explained they came to warn them about predicted heavy rains and flash floods, the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, the largest on the record, and other storm systems heading for San Antonio.

Since the underpass also serves as a drainage canal, a worker warned, “You can’t stay here. It’s going to completely fill up with the water.”

Beneath W. Martin and Camaron streets, the canal is more narrow, making it more dangerous, Young said.

“Get your personal stuff, stuff that’s important to you,” Young told a man as he handed him a bus pass. “Get it out and go to Haven.”

Mark Carmona, Haven for Hope’s president and CEO, said they have room for up to 700 additional people in their courtyard, which also has an interior section, and other buildings on its campus on the near West Side.

Carmona said, “We utilize all parts of our campus to make that happen, to make sure that at least for one evening or the entire time that we need to, people are safe and out of harm’s way.”

He said Haven’s outreach workers are telling those they encounter about the two homeless who were swept away in the city’s drainage system and drowned.

Typically, many homeless people avoid shelters because they are alcoholics or drug addicts.

“I think it’s unfortunate that a person would sacrifice their own life or their buddy’s life for a drug and not avoid a storm that could potentially take their lives,” said a Haven resident identified only as Dustin.

Carmona said even if they’ve been turned away for whatever reason in the past, as long as they have no weapons, alcohol or drugs when they go through security they will be allowed inside.

“In this situation, these are emergency situations. The first priority is people’s safety,” Carmona said.

Laura Calderon, Haven’s spokeswoman, said usually intake ends after 10 p.m., but if someone decides not to ride out the storm, they can still come to Haven for Hope after hours.