Dignowity Hill residents, social service groups divided over how to help homeless population

Neighbors worry the number of people without shelter will climb

SAN ANTONIO – George Frederick said he defines Dignowity Hill as its history and its people.

“I’m glad to be a part of it,” Frederick said. “To be honest with you, this is where the action is.”

Frederick serves as the president of Hope House Ministries. For more than 15 years, at the corner of Dawson and Cherry, he’s helped people rebuild their lives by finding work and a relationship with God.

“We try to help them out,” Frederick said. “Everybody needs help.”

Most of his clients are either homeless or recently incarcerated, and Frederick said he chose Dignowity Hill more than a decade ago as the neighborhood for his work because of the people.

“This is where the people are,” Frederick said. “We want to be in the heart of the homeless situation.”

Hope House is one of five social service organizations stationed in Dignowity Hill, and more are on the perimeter. Some residents are concerned with the number of groups in the neighborhood, worrying that so many services in such a small community draw in a large number of unsheltered individuals. This divide has been going on for more than a decade.

Neighbors told KSAT that they’ve seen trash fires and aggressive arguments near these homeless encampments. One neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, said they have safety concerns.

“The numbers are increasing,” they said.

For years, neighbors have tried roundtables and meetings to address these concerns in the community. This year, in the new budget, the City of San Antonio allotted more money to increase the number of encampment cleanouts and housing support.

The Hays Street Bridge, which sits on the edge of Dignowity Hill’s neighborhood boundaries, is a regular stop for some city crews. Solid Waste Management confirmed to KSAT that across October and November, the Hays Street Bridge area had nine sweeps.

But, neighbors say they still want to see a long-term solution.

“Without a housing component, I think we’re just going to continue to see a higher number of encampments,” that neighbor said.

That’s why Frederick said his work, and the help provided by the other organizations in the neighborhood, are so important.

“We need to get in front of it,” Frederick said. “We need to have them ready to understand how to pay bills, what owning an apartment is going to entail and what the responsibilities are.”

Hope House focuses on finding work for individuals. Down the street, Robert Galan III, the director of social services for the Salvation Army of San Antonio, said the Dave Coy Salvation Army Shelter for Men’s mission is to serve as an emergency shelter and provide transitional housing opportunities for men in the community without stable shelter.

“It creates a path and it has the guidance that’s necessary for individuals to self-resolve,” Galan said. “The reality is they’re trapped and they’re not equipped with the tools to resolve this on their own.”

Galan said the reason so many social service organizations are in this neighborhood is because they all focus on different efforts.

“Whether we’re there or not, those individuals are going to be there,” Galan said. “We don’t want to be redundant. We don’t want to emulate a resource that’s already there.”

Frederick said the need is only increasing, and that’s why he’s working toward renovating Hope House to build an expansive community center.

“The new facility will give us a whole bunch more tools in our toolbox,” Frederick said. “It’s for the whole community, not just the homeless.”

He’s now collecting donations for the $10 million project. But his goal is to give more opportunities to the Dignowity Hill community.

“It’s for everybody,” Frederick said.

In a community with decades of history and now new downtown development, all sides say working toward more affordable housing in the city could be a long-term solution.

“It’s on a national level,” Galan said. “There needs to be a shift, a change. We need to make more affordable housing.”

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About the Authors

Avery Everett is a news reporter and multimedia journalist at KSAT 12 News. Avery is a Philadelphia native. If she’s not at the station, she’s either on a hiking or biking trail. A lover of charcuterie boards and chocolate chip cookies, Avery’s also looking forward to eating her way through San Antonio, one taco shop at a time!

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.

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