City to shift low-barrier homeless shelter to 200-room downtown hotel

City had originally planned to open a second, downtown shelter; instead it will consolidate into one

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s city-funded low-barrier homeless shelter will move to a larger, leased hotel downtown with more than four times as many rooms.

The San Antonio City Council on Thursday morning unanimously approved a two-year $8.8 million lease of the Holiday Inn at Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Santa Rosa, along with a $7.1 million agreement for San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries to operate it as a 200-room, low-barrier shelter. The combined $15.9 million will be paid out of funds the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

SAMM has run the city’s existing 45-room low-barrier shelter at the Days Inn on East Houston Street and Bowie Street since July 2021. It helps chronically homeless people transition off the street and hopefully into a more long-term situation somewhere else.

According to the city, the shelter has served 329 people. SAMM President and CEO Nikisha Baker says they stay an average of about 108 days.

“Our success rate has been about 36% of the individuals that are coming into the shelter are moving into a permanent housing solution. And while that sounds low, it’s above the national average for this client population,” Baker said.

Though the city had initially planned to open a second shelter, Human Services Director Melody Woosley said officials decided it was more efficient to have one large shelter instead of two smaller ones.

“We were originally thinking we would probably find another 70- to 80-room motel. And so this actually creates about 70 more rooms than we anticipated during the budget process for the same for the same dollars,” Woosley said.

Woosley said Haven For Hope had previously used the hotel to provide more space for its clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAMMinistries plans to spend the first few weeks of November, when the two-year lease at the Holiday Inn begins, setting up security cameras and rooms to be used as offices. It hopes to move its current clients over and have them settled by Thanksgiving.

Baker said they are already working to hire more case managers. She expects it could take three to four months before they can reach total capacity as they phase people in.

“The reason for that is just because we also don’t want to upset the apple cart with dynamics in a residential environment, right?” Baker said. “And if you bring 200 people in all at the same time, and they’re all getting acclimated to the organization, the programs, the services and each other, that can be somewhat chaotic.”

The low-barrier shelter expansion is part of a multi-prong approach the city is taking to tackle the issue of homelessness. City officials have stated they have a goal to get 400 of the 874 people marked as “unsheltered” homeless in the last point in time count off the street.

In addition to supporting the creation of more shelter beds and permanent housing options, the city has also promised to clear out more homeless camps — a top issue for San Antonians.

The budget includes money for 700 camp cleanups in the 2024 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.

Though the city had said there would be about 500 camp cleanups in FY 2023, Woosley said she believed the city actually ended up doing about 600.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.

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