Why warming shelters were not opened in San Antonio during this cold snap

City of San Antonio working with nonprofit organizations, shelters to get people out of cold

SAN ANTONIO – Despite cold weather, rain and closures, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County did not open warming centers this week because officials said that conditions did not meet the threshold.

“The policy is that we’re looking at 32 degrees or lower for a sustained period of time, or if there’s a combination of precipitation and temperatures below 32 that make it dangerously inclement,” City of San Antonio spokeswoman Laura Mayes said.

Mayes added that warming centers are different from temporary shelters which provide unsheltered individuals with warm weather clothing, blankets, transportation, a warm place to stay, meals and other resources. Those are open, have capacity and are welcome to all.

The city opened warming centers in late December, but were not widely used by the general public. A total of 14 people used the centers over a two-day period. The majority of the individuals at the centers were unsheltered guests or people experiencing homelessness. The city has focused on outreach programs and working with shelters that offer overnight stays and services.

“Our human services outreach crews have been out doing outreach to the community starting on Monday and have continued that throughout the entire weather event,” Mayes said. “They’re also handing out cold weather gear, blankets, jackets, gloves, hats, because many people don’t want to use the services. That’s their choice. But we want to try to encourage them as best as we can to come into the shelters.”

One of those shelters is Haven for Hope. The shelter serves as many as 1,600 people on any given day and saw an increase of 55 people stay there from Monday night to Tuesday night. The shelter is open for anyone at anytime.

“Even when the warming centers are open, they closed down at a certain time. It’s not available for overnight sleeping, so I know there were a few emergency shelters that opened this week,” Haven for Hope Director of Communications Terri Behling said. “Anyone coming to Haven has access to three warm meals a day. Our clients have access to showers, laundry facilities and then all the resources that they could need.

Behling added there has been a concerted effort to get people off the streets.

“All of the providers in San Antonio are working together and always looking for ways to improve, so there is availability. There are places that are available during the day. Corazon Day Center. CAM Ministries. You have Salvation Army and SAMMinistries all open during the day,” Behling said.

But the solution to get people out of the cold this week did not sit well with some.

“It’s bizarre that they would say that it is not cold until it is 32 degrees,” said Molly Wright, a homeless advocate. “The policy needs to be changed to a more common sense, more compassionate policy that will help the constituents, both unhoused, unsheltered, sheltered residents and this community.”

Wright said it is also unfair to put the responsibility on shelters and nonprofits.

“Relying on agencies and entities does not help the houseless community. The City of San Antonio, city management and council are not doing enough to help,” Wright said. “It’s not fair to rely on those overwhelmed agencies with as little as they have to be helping as much as we have.”

The city says it will continue to work with its partners to keep people safe during weather related events. Libraries and senior centers remain open during the day as well.

“We work very closely with our nonprofit providers to make sure that those who may be unsheltered or experiencing chronic homelessness have a place to go and are connected with the resources that they need,” Mayes said.

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About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.