SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This content was created exclusively for KSAT Explains, a weekly streaming show that dives deep into the biggest issues facing San Antonio and South Texas. Watch past episodes here and download the free KSAT-TV app to stay up on the latest.
San Antonio has a population totaling more than 2.3 million people. In 2021, nearly 2,900 people were experiencing homelessness. Among those individuals are people who are chronically homeless.
Valerie Salas, Dir. of Homeless Services for Christian Assistance Ministry, works with those individuals one-on-one through CAM’s Street Outreach Team.
“This isn’t just someone who unfortunately just lost their job and is sleeping in their vehicle that wants help,” Salas said. “They’re struggling with some significant mental health issues, disabilities, physical issues, fears, traumas.”
Those challenges are just a few reasons that may impact why a person becomes chronically homeless or why they may struggle to move on. Salas, who started doing outreach on her own in 2013, is in the middle of helping on of her clients named Neville return home to Zimbabwe.
“Neville is an individual that I met in the street many years ago,” Salas said. “He has a very powerful story... he has just kind of fallen through the cracks here in San Antonio.”
In her effort to help Neville, Salas learned he arrived in the United States under very different circumstances.
“So the short version is he won an international scholarship for his academics and he came here actually to Cleveland to go to Cleveland University,” Salas said. “With his mental health issues, it’s hard to put together a solid timeline.”
After years of piecing together Neville’s story, Salas made a breakthrough in her search earlier this year. “I was able to, after a lot of digging and investigating, find his family who loves him, didn’t know where he was, and reunite them over the phone,” Salas said. “His dad’s in England with two of his sisters, but his other sister lives on the property they grew up on in Zimbabwe.”
Neville’s story is not uncommon. There are hundreds of other people in San Antonio who are struggling with homelessness and battling mental illness. While there are resources, timing has to be right.
“The biggest challenge that I hear from the chronically homeless is that they’re not ready or willing to commit to the help that’s ready in that moment. That they’re more comfortable staying on the street,” Salas said.
Dawn White-Fosdick, President and CEO of CAM, explains outreach takes investment. “You have to spend a lot of time getting to know people, listening to them, living by them, being part of their life in order to help this really specific population make it off the street,” said White-Fosdick. “We have to individually get to know that person to figure out why they’re making this choice and what steps we need to do to help them make a different choice and and possibly not be homeless or at least participate in a shelter environment.”
In Neville’s case, Salas’s investment is paying off. Salas is now working with federal authorities and the Zimbabwean Embassy to help Neville go home. She expects to receive the proper documentation soon and is considering ways to raise funds for his flight. If you’d like to help, you can support CAM’s mission here.
You can watch KSAT Explains: The Battle Over Homeless Encampments is the video player below.