SAN ANTONIO – Though he still doesn’t have the keys to the District 1 field office, Councilman Mario Bravo has made it a point to speak to the people camping out beside it.
“I’m Mario. I’m the new council member for out here,” he told a group of people gathered in a shady corner of the parking lot Tuesday morning.
Under Bravo’s predecessor, Roberto Treviño, the field office near IH-10 and Vance Jackson, next to the Westfall Library, had been a safe haven for people experiencing homelessness to camp out. The situation has exasperated neighbors in the surrounding area, though, who hope the new councilman will get rid of the camp.
But Bravo does not have any immediate plans to clear them out.
“There are no quick fixes to this. What I’ve done is I hit the ground running, and I’ve been meeting with everybody I can to -- all the experienced professionals who work on homelessness issues to see how we can work best on long-term solutions,” Bravo told KSAT.
One possible solution -- at least a partial one -- could be the downtown hotel Bravo and his council colleagues agreed to lease last week to operate as a low-barrier homeless shelter. The councilman wants to get as many people from outside the D1 field office into the hotel as soon as possible.
However, the group contracted to operate it, SAMMinistries, says there are guest registrations for the hotel into early July, and it will take time to get the operation up and running. So they likely won’t take anybody in until late July.
Bravo spread the news to those outside the field office on Tuesday, telling KSAT, “I just want to manage those expectations and keep everybody apprized of what’s going on.”
He says he’s keeping neighbors in the conversation, too, for whom the current situation is simply untenable.
“We know they’re using drugs. There’s prostitution going on -- urination, defecation in the community, not just there but throughout the area around the district office,” Dellview Area Neighborhood Association President Ernest Salinas said of the people in the camp.
San Antonio police records show more than 70 calls for service to the office since January for narcotics, disturbances, suspicious persons, and even a wanted person, among others.
The district office, and homelessness overall, played a large part in the runoff between Treviño and Bravo. With Bravo coming out victorious, Salinas says he and his neighbors are hopeful the new councilman will deal with the camp “ASAP.”
“We don’t want to have to deal with the issues anymore, but again, we’re willing to work with him. Let’s hear the ideas. Hear our ideas, and let’s hear his ideas. And let’s put a program together. Let’s make it go,” Salinas said.
Bravo is uncertain if he will continue to use the building as a field office, and Salinas hopes it could be turned into a services hub for the city.
But the issue is bigger than just one district office or neighborhood. Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report polling shows homelessness tops crime as the biggest issue for voters.
Bravo thinks better coordination and communication, as well as efficient use of taxpayer money, are part of the answer to decreasing homelessness in San Antonio. But he’s not unveiling any big initiatives of his own right now.
“I’m new. I’m learning. And you know, I’m going to work with experienced professionals who work in this space and support them to the best that I can and be a team player,” Bravo said.