Pandemic puts downtown homeless encampments in plain sight

People living in tents no longer in the shadows

While many people were hunkering down at home due to coronavirus quarantines, others say they were left with few choices when it comes to where they could go.

SAN ANTONIO – While many people were hunkering down at home due to coronavirus quarantines, others say they were left with few choices when it comes to where they could go.

Tomanique Grant is one of several people who recently took to living in a tent, right alongside a busy downtown street.

Tomanique Grant uses furniture to try to make his tent as comfortable as possible. (KSAT 12 News)

He bunks down each night in a fenced off parking lot near N. Main, alongside people in more than a half dozen other tents.

“This is not no community. This is a way of life,” he said, emphatically. “There’s women here. There’s children here, you know? And they just can’t be just roaming the streets.”

Grant says all of them came together out of necessity.

People living within this encampment share daily chores, such as sweeping and cleaning. (KSAT 12 News)

They not only live together, but share chores and any food they can find.

A similar mini tent city is set up, out in the open, in two parking lots not far from the Bexar County jail.

Grant says the closures related to the coronavirus left him and many other homeless people without any assistance.

“The shelter access and the service access have been limited for the duration of COVID,” said Patrick Steck, the interim Assistant Director of the city’s Department of Human Services. “A lot of things are now coming back online.”

Steck said because of the pandemic, both outreach and enforcement related to the homeless population dropped off.

Now, he says those efforts will be getting a big boost, thanks to some new funding made possible by the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security Act.

“With CARES Act dollars, federal CARES Act money were are going to be expanding the housing services that many of our providers were already offering,” Steck said.

Some of the money, he said, will be used to hire eleven more outreach workers who will begin visiting homeless people who are not in shelters and assessing their needs.

Grant is skeptical, though.

He said he has been through many programs before but due to his criminal past, he has fallen through the cracks.

The process for getting off the streets is frustrating and disjointed, Grant said, and so far, nothing has helped him.

“The only thing I’m asking for is that all the resources come together,” he said. “We’re human beings. We’re not animals.”

Editor’s note: These interviews were conducted earlier this month. On October 15, San Antonio police moved in and shut down the encampment, not long after KSAT 12 News spoke with the city’s Department of Human Services about it.

When contacted about the sudden shutdown, Roland Martinez with human services issued the following statement:

“Our team and partners had been working with the clients at that campsite to encourage them to access shelter, both before and after you spoke with Patrick. We followed our process for multiple outreach attempts before the camp was removed by the property owner and code compliance. Several individuals accepted and went to Haven (for Hope), while others declined services each time and moved along before the camp was removed.”

It is still unclear whether Tomanique Grant has found a permanent home.

About the Authors:

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.

Tim has been a photojournalist and video editor at KSAT since 1998. He came to San Antonio from Lubbock, where he worked in TV and earned his bachelor's degree in Electronic Media and Communication from Texas Tech University. Tim has won a handful of awards and has earned a master's in Strategic Communication and Innovation from Tech as well.