‘Grave oversight’: San Antonio childcare center slams plans for low-barrier homeless shelter next door

The Holiday Inn next to Discovery World Learning Center was previously used by Haven for Hope during the COVID-19 pandemic

SAN ANTONIO – Just days after San Antonio City Council members approved a $15.9 million plan to use a downtown hotel as a 200-room, low-barrier homeless shelter, the childcare center next door says it is “outraged.”

Council members agreed unanimously on Oct. 19 to lease the Holiday Inn at Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Santa Rosa Avenue for two years and pay San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries (SAMM) to operate it, using federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act. The non-profit already runs the Days Inn on Houston Street and Bowie Street as a 45-room low-barrier shelter for the city but plans to transfer its operations to the larger Holiday Inn by Thanksgiving.

Offering a low-barrier shelter is central to the city’s efforts to get 400 people off the streets in FY 2024. It is meant to help chronically homeless people transition off the street and hopefully into a more long-term situation somewhere else.

However, the head of the childcare center next to the Holiday Inn says the city’s plan “has left us deeply concerned and, frankly, outraged.”

In a letter addressed to council members Monday, Discovery World Learning Center CEO Jason Jauregui wrote that “stakeholders” like the childcare center “were sidelined from this decision-making process” and urged the mayor and city council to reconsider the shelter’s placement.

Low-barrier shelters are meant to provide as few hurdles as possible to get people off the street. A person can be admitted to the city’s current shelter even if they lack ID, aren’t sober yet, or have a criminal record.

“While the intent behind such shelters is commendable, placing one adjacent to a childcare center that serves infants to 12-year-olds is a grave oversight,” Jauregui said.

To back up his concerns, Jauregui pointed to the time Haven for Hope previously used the 313-room Holiday Inn during the pandemic. A spokeswoman confirmed the homeless shelter housed people at the hotel between March 2020 until late August 2022 - roughly two-and-a-half years - to help with social distancing.

During that time, Jauregui wrote in his letter Discovery World faced “daily challenges due to the shelter’s proximity,” citing issues like trash, loitering, trespassing on the playground, people trying to enter the facility, and drugs. He also pointed to fires at an abandoned building during that same time.

Human Services Director Melody Woosley confirmed the city had not reached out to the childcare center about the plans to use the neighboring hotel for a low-barrier shelter, but she did not think it was an oversight.

The city had been closely involved with Haven’s operations at the Holiday Inn during the pandemic, Woosley said but had not heard the complaints laid out in Jauregui’s letter from the childcare center or any other nearby business.

“I think because we had so few concerns when that hotel had been a shelter operation previously, we were anticipating that there would (not) be any ongoing concerns. And...and so we did not reach out,” Woosley said.

The city department head said she had not had an opportunity yet to follow up with the San Antonio Police Department about the issues but that “right now,” the concerns would not change the city’s plans.

SAPD records requested by KSAT show more calls for service to Discovery World while Haven was using the hotel next door as a shelter. The average number of calls each month went from an average of 1.8 in the six months before Haven for Hope took over the hotel to 3.7 during the 30 months it was running it.

But while the 111 incidents during that time included multiple disturbances, suspicious person reports and burglary alarms, 48 of them were just 911 hang-ups. Several others were for accidents.

There was also a sharp spike in the average number of calls per service at the hotel itself during that same time period, going from about 11.5 calls per month to almost 20 calls per month. The 596 incidents listed in police records for that time included 66 disturbances, 26 thefts, 14 assaults, four calls about rapes, and three about deaths.

The San Antonio Fire Department confirmed two fires during that time frame at the nearby building Jauregui had mentioned, 503 Urban Loop. However, an SAFD spokesman wrote in an email “There is no direct correlation to the use of the Holiday Inn to these fires. The issue of fires in vacant buildings is a city-wide issue, and not just in the downtown area.”

SAMM President and CEO Nikisha Baker said her organization plans to be good neighbors. And while the shelter will be low-barrier, “it does not mean that it is Mad Max in the Thunderdome.”

“We’re not allowing folks to run around with their hair on fire in this space,” she told KSAT in an interview Tuesday at the Days Inn. “And we don’t intend for that to be the case at the new project. It really is about building a rapport with individuals so that they want to engage in services.”

Though residents at the low-barrier shelter won’t necessarily have to be sober, they aren’t allowed to use drugs or alcohol on site. And while SAMM currently accepts registered sex offenders at the shelter’s current location at the Days Inn, Baker said the Holiday Inn’s proximity to the childcare center means they will not be able to house sex offenders who are still under active supervision like probation or parole.

Baker said SAMM had been aware of the childcare center, though not its concerns until KSAT provided Jauregui’s letter. However, she said, “we will talk to them.”

“We want to understand their concerns and what we can do to mitigate those concerns,” Baker said.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Azian Bermea is a photojournalist at KSAT.

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