Homeless outreach pilot program recommended for expansion

Could a lone social worker in District 10 carry some of the answers to San Antonio’s homeless problem?

San Antonio – For Tiffany Juarez, getting someone off the street and into housing might be the ultimate goal, but it’s not the most immediate one.

“Our measurement of success is that someone is saying ‘yes’ to something,” Juarez said.

Juarez, a licensed clinical social worker, is the heart of a homeless outreach pilot program that could be set for expansion. As a family support coordinator for the city’s Department of Human Services, Juarez has been going out with SAPD SAFFE North officers since June to visit homeless encampments in District 10.

“We talk to people and offer them services and also build therapeutic relationships with them, so that we can help them move forward in life: to housing, to jobs, maybe to care, mental health, medical, maybe substance abuse programs. It just varies on the person and what’s happening with them in their life,” Juarez said.

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When she gets a “yes,” Juarez follows up. She arranges transportation to meetings, helps get people into programs and suggests other services or help they might want to consider.

Juarez said she tries to figure what will be the best fit for a person, because it becomes harder to get someone to seek help if they have tried it and failed before.

“We have to look at a person and their mental, medical, spiritual -- all of that. We have to look at all of that, and we can’t just say, ‘Hey, go get in a house.’”

Although Juarez’s position is essentially the extent of the pilot program, the approach has caught the attention of Homebase, a nonprofit group hired by the city to develop a strategic homeless plan. In a Feb. 17 presentation to the Community Health and Equity Committee, Homebase policy analyst Alicia Lehmer included expanding the program as one of four preliminary recommendations to the city, calling the pilot position “universally well-received.”

“The homeless outreach clinician has done a great job of reaching people experiencing unsheltered homelessness who are often difficult to engage and, you know, may be resistant to taking services at first,” Lehmer told the committee.

Homebase is expected to present its final recommendations to the city council in April.

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The funding for Juarez’s position was included in the FY 2019 budget as an amendment proposed by Councilman Clayton Perry to focus on clients in District 10. Perry calls the program “very successful.”

“Every person that we get out of that situation is invaluable to this city because they then become a productive citizen and, you know, contribute to the society here,” Perry said.

A Feb. 14 memo to members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee put Juarez’s “caseload” at approximately 19 clients, although that doesn’t tell the full story. Juarez said she and the SAFFE officers have a list of 100 people they have met, though not all of them have developed into continued relationships.

Juarez also welcomes the idea of expanding the program. She said the SAFFE officers help with the outreach, by visiting encampments and handing out Juarez’s card to homeless people.

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And then they come back and they said, ‘They’re ready,’ and they’re like, 'Let’s go!’ And they get excited about it, too. So we have a really great team," Juarez said. "And so I think there should be like two or three social workers in each substation, if possible.”

In the meantime, Juarez will keep working to get District 10′s homeless residents to say “yes” to whatever services she can.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.