BCSO launches ‘Hats on the River Walk’ campaign to help tourists, those experiencing homelessness

The sheriff’s office plans to offer resources to homeless in need of mental health assistance

SAN ANTONIO – Tourists got a chance to see Bexar County sheriff’s deputies throughout the River Walk Saturday as they kicked off their “Hats on the River Walk” campaign.

“We saw a lot of them and they looked really good,” said David Vanbrunt, who was celebrating a friend’s wedding. “They had their cowboy hats on and I can really respect that. You can definitely see their presence.”

Brenda Lucas is another person who noticed the hats.

“Heck I like them! I want to get me one of those,” Lucas said.

The deputies were requested in light of some issues this popular tourist attraction is seeing with people experiencing homeless.

“We are really excited about it,” said Ryan Wood, the general manager of On the Bend Oyster Bar and Cigar Lounge. “Any moves in that direction is going to help us all. We typically see San Antonio police officers and park police officers but to see the sheriffs out here this weekend to have an extra presence out here. It feels good.”

Sheriff Javier Salazar said the River Walk is special to him.

“We have seen what happened in Austin,” Salazar said. “What happened in Houston recently at their tourist attraction. We don’t want that here. We got it going on here in San Antonio. We want to keep it that way. They’ve seen an influx of tourists, which is a good thing, but they have also seen an influx of people experiencing homelessness that they may be experiencing mental health issues. Sometimes that doesn’t mix too well with tourists.”

While the deputies won’t be making arrests due to the fact that the River Walk is in San Antonio police’s jurisdiction, they will act as a deterrent.

They will also act as helpful resources to tourists and those experiencing homelessness.

“We are working with a couple of stakeholders,” Salazar said. “The organization SARAH. Also, the Haven for Hope is partnering up with us on some stuff. But additionally, we got mental health unit on speed dial. The downtown merchants are actually working on some literature for us that will be co-branded. One side, everything tourists need to know and the other side, everything a person experiencing homelessness needs to know.”

“To hear that they are contributing toward mental health of the homeless, not just trying to beautify the River Walk but to help the homeless people on the street, it is comforting to hear. I hope we hear success for all of their efforts,” Wood said.

Tourists said it was also great to see the community engagement with law enforcement taking place.

“I felt a little safe. I felt like I knew them when I just met them,” Lucas said. “So, I felt really comfortable. People need to get to know them. We have the same problem where I am from in Upstate New York. Trying to get police and community and people involved so they can feel better and more comfortable.”

“It feels good,” Vanbrunt said. “Feels like they are doing their part with making us feel safe. As someone who is an outsider, it is a very welcoming sight.”

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About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray is a reporter with KSAT12 News.