Leon Valley, TX – David Gonzalez said he was surprised after pulling the amount of calls the Leon Valley Police Department received related to homelessness over the last five years.
“Yes, I was, and I’m sure I’m missing some,” Gonzalez, who serves as the police chief, said. “In Leon Valley, we try and patrol our business areas and our home and residential areas. So when we’re adding something else, we’re taking away from the other.”
Gonzalez said his department has seen a spike in calls related to homelessness. Between 2017 and 2023, he said there were more than 400 of these calls. He said that’s part of the reason why the city passed an ordinance essentially banning homelessness. He said his department is working to enforce it, but is also eager to see how new solutions help the city with an ongoing issue.
“We have very heartfelt emotions about this,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not against the law to be homeless. It’s something that happens and it’s pretty typical nowadays.”
The ordinance that Leon Valley City Council passed this past summer makes certain characteristics of homelessness illegal within city limits. The ordinance bans camping, lodging, or erecting a tent between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. at any public park or other recreational spaces. The ordinance also bans people from sleeping in a vehicle that is parked on a city street for more than 24 hours or more than two hours on a highway in the city limits.
Gonzalez said enforcing this ordinance has been more challenging to his department than just answering calls. He said over the first six months his department was tasked with enforcing the ordinance, officers issued multiple verbal warnings. The department only ever gave out one citation in 2023. Gonzalez said he expected to give more.
“We’re going to notify first. We’re going to offer. And hopefully, that person will keep moving,” Gonzalez said. “That one was a ‘hey, you can’t be here. You need to leave. You’ve been advised in the past you’ve been given your trespass warning. You didn’t leave.’”
But Gonzalez said the calls are still coming in. He compiled the police data from 2017 through 2023 for KSAT 12 related to homeless response and calls received. Gonzalez said the biggest jump came between 2021 and 2022. In 2021, he reported 48 of these calls. In 2022, he reported 101.
He said hotspots for the city and homeless response usually come at vacant lots, drainage ditches, or public parks. He said one of the major concerns of the city and addressing homelessness is its limited resources.
“Our umbrella is 3.5 square square miles, surrounded by San Antonio’s 500 miles,” Gonzalez said.
That’s why he’s eager to see the city’s street outreach program come to fruition.
The City of Leon Valley is partnering with Bexar County and Haven for Hope to launch a new pilot program focused on building connections and a community for those without shelter. They plan to walk the city streets and get to know people. The program is an outreach initiative, and Close to Home SA helps set these standards.
Katie Wilson, the executive director for Close to Home SA, said outreach helps find more long-term solutions to homelessness.
“Cleaning up the encampments may temporarily move people to a different area, but it’s not going to move them into housing,” Wilson said. “Which is ultimately how we start to solve this issue.”
Wilson said after she first learned of Leon Valley’s ordinance, she reached out to the city. She said the city was receptive to pushing outreach efforts too.
“Although they passed the ordinance, they have not been arresting people,” Wilson said. “They saw the value in let’s try to get people moved off of the street instead of simply moving where they’re staying. I think we can all agree we don’t want to see people on the street, and we don’t want to see that continue to go up because that impacts everyone.”
The program is still in its early stages. To read more about it, click here.