Homeless man tells story of forced eviction from downtown tent city

Tomanique Grant, others had few options when COVID limited shelter space

A homeless man says he and others were evicted from an encampment that sprung up after coronavirus quarantines limited shelter space.
A homeless man says he and others were evicted from an encampment that sprung up after coronavirus quarantines limited shelter space.

SAN ANTONIO – Being evicted may not seem like a possibility for someone who has no home at all.

However, that is what Tomanique Grant says happened to him and several other people in a makeshift tent city near downtown.

Grant first spoke to KSAT12 News in early October when he and the others were living in tents in a parking lot near North Main Avenue and Interstate 35.

Pandemic puts downtown homeless encampments in plain sight

He says they set up camp out of necessity due to a scarcity of space at local shelters.

“This is not no community. This is a way of life,” he said, at the time of that initial interview.

Patrick Steck, interim Assistant Director with the Department of Human Services, confirmed at that time that shelter access had been limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Within a few days after Steck granted that interview, though, the entire tent city and everyone living in it suddenly disappeared.

Roland Martinez, who also is with DHS, told KSAT 12 News that his agency had been working with the people there all along and offered shelter at Haven for Hope to everyone in the encampment.

In early November, however, Grant resurfaced, telling a different story.

He says he and his neighbors in the tent city were forced out during a surprise crackdown.

“I was at the city council meeting that morning trying to meet with the mayor about this situation,” Grant says, reflecting on what happened Oct. 15.

When he returned to what he thought was his home, Grant says he found out that San Antonio police had thrown all of his possessions in the trash and evicted everyone.

"(I) posed the question, ‘Why scatter everybody like ants?,’ he said. “That don’t make no sense.”

Grant says with nowhere else to go, he ended up pitching another tent on the opposite side of the fence from the property where the group had been staying originally.

That land, which is on a ledge above Interstate 35, is owned by the state, he says.

KSAT 12 News reached out to various entities with the city about his allegations, including DHS and the office of City Councilman Robert Trevino.

Both promised to get back with some answers, but failed to do so.

A public information officer with SAPD said in an email that police played only a support role in the eviction and would not touch or throw away anyone’s possessions.

Jennifer Rodriguez said the crackdown was a collaboration involving several city departments.

She was not able to say which of them organized it, instead deferring that question to DHS.

Rodriguez did say, however, that the “clean-up” was done after giving everyone in the encampment 72 hours' advance notice.

Grant says the eviction came without warning and took everyone by surprise.

Still, he continues to hope that eventually things will go his way.

“There is no such thing as a person who doesn’t want a roof over their head. That’s not even an argument,” Grant said.

Because of his criminal past, he says he has been caught in a cycle of homelessness that persists no matter how hard he tries to get out.

He is hoping one day to be able to cut through the red tape and walk through his own front door.

The office of District 1 Councilman Robert Trevino released the following statement regarding the homeless situation:

“My office has been working with our homeless communities in our district. We have taken a very human-centered approach to the crisis and our Homeless Outreach team continues to connect with folks to get them access to the resources they need. This method was recently adopted in our FY 2021 Budget and will be implemented across all districts with an additional team focused on Downtown. I have worked with DHS to also expand the ID Recovery Program that was established by two Bike Patrol Officers with the goal of offering opportunities to individuals who are in need of identification in order to get into assistance facilities. Especially now when restrictions and guidelines are being strictly enforced to offset the spike in COVID-19 cases, many shelters and facilities have reduced their intake to ensure social distancing. This is reflected in the increase in makeshift encampments that have popped up across our city. We need to look for options that supports those displaced and with limited options while they wait in limbo. We should not create circumstances that place them at risk for losing their things, like an ID, or their lives because they are being pushed to sleep on the shoulder of busy Interstates.”

About the Authors:

Katrina Webber 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.

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.