Nonprofit building campus to house homeless seniors on East Side

Housing First Community Coalition is building a campus on the East Side that will provide housing and support services for older people who are homeless.

SAN ANTONIO – As the city of San Antonio is working to address homelessness in our community through its strategic plan, members of a local nonprofit organization hope they can focus their help on the particularly vulnerable population.

The Housing First Community Coalition is converting a piece of land on the East Side into a campus to house seniors who are homeless.

“That site used to be the Towne Twin Theatre in the '70s and '80s, and so we just thought we would honor its history and name it Towne Twin Village,” said Mark Wittig, board president of Housing First Community Coalition.

The 17-acre piece of land will have RVs, tiny homes and apartments. Wittig said it will be a place where older people who are homeless can live and receive support services.

Wittig said the coalition is modeling the campus after a project in Austin called Community First! Village, which is operated by outreach ministry Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

Wittig said people will have to pay to live on campus.

“Because of their age, some of them will be on Social Security,” Wittig said. “Some will have -- maybe they’re on disability, or maybe they’re a veteran -- and in some cases, they may be working on site.”

Wittig said the coalition has already raised $2 million, but the goal is to raise $20 million.

“You've got to bring water and power into the property. It's on the street, but it's not inside. So a lot of infrastructure work, architectural engineering, goes into play at this point,” Wittig said.

Recently, the San Antonio City Council approved a zoning change.

“We asked for a zoning variance where you can have services as well as housing mixed,” Wittig said.

Wittig said more than 200 people could live in the new space.

District 2 councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan sent KSAT the following statement:

“The approval of the Housing First Communitas is truly a wonderful and much needed success for District 2. This will have a magnificent impact by providing housing to our city’s homeless population, one of the most vulnerable communities in the City of San Antonio.

This is about dignity. Every day, our field offices receive calls wondering, ‘When will you do something about the homeless population,’ ‘What is your plan for the homeless?’ This isn’t about forcing homeless people to relocate or hiding them away. It is about addressing the root cause of homelessness and making a transition back into the workforce a stronger reality. There is no one step solution, and this is not a task that any of us can accomplish alone. We need to become the city that leads with compassion and respect, that offers shelter to those in need, that believes in the value of every individual who steps foot into our city, and makes choices to make the lives of our constituents a little bit easier. And today, with the help of our community leaders and organizations that have been doing the work, we took a huge step towards fulfilling that mission.”

For some longtime residents, the project comes as a surprise.

“It's already been planned, and probably, they're going to do it regardless of what we think. I guess I'd be all right,” said Robert Saucedo, a resident living nearby.

The Housing First Community Coalition said the development will not pose a security risk.

“We will have some form of security on the front part. Closest to Dietrich will be open because that's an open community center, but just behind it will be gated ... It's just that we don't want anybody walking in there and creating trouble,” Wittig said.

Wittig said there is also a space for people who have been volunteering at the Catholic Worker House, a place that already helps homeless people in San Antonio.

About the Authors:

Tiffany Huertas is known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.