‘It’s hard to get out of this rut:’ Homelessness on the rise downtown as city sweeps hundreds of camps

In FY 2024 so far, city crews have completed more than 500 homeless encampment abatements

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s Note: This story is dedicated to Jose “Joe” Arredondo, a beloved KSAT photojournalist who died on Saturday. This story was one of the last projects he worked on here at KSAT.

Cindy said people in San Antonio often stereotype the homeless community.

“I’ve never flown a sign,” Cindy said. “I never begged for money.”

Cindy is experiencing homelessness. She asked KSAT to not share her image or last name out of fear of retaliation.

“I had two jobs and a car, and unfortunately, little by little it all went away,” Cindy said. “But God has blessed me here and there, and I get what I need to survive.

The most recent count said 3,155 people experienced homelessness in San Antonio and Bexar County in 2023. Data has been collected for 2024, but it’s still being finalized.

Cindy is just one story of hundreds who stay in the downtown neighborhood.

“This isn’t my choice,” Cindy said. “It’s hard to get out of this rut.”

Cindy said she’s stayed downtown over the last couple of years because of the resources available to her.

“We have to eat,” Cindy said. “There’s only a few places in which you can eat and have food every day.”

But this draw to downtown has caused shelters, like Haven for Hope, to be over capacity.

“We’re seeing an increase in homelessness,” said Alberto Rodriguez, the vice president of transformation operations at Haven for Hope. “We’ve been over capacity for the last 18 to 24 months.”

Haven for Hope offers dozens of programs because Rodriguez said homelessness can look so different across San Antonio.

“Homelessness is not always the individual sleeping out on the curb or sleeping under a bridge or something like that. It is impacting everyone differently,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about bringing that humanity and that dignity to those facing homelessness.”

Haven for Hope is just one of many organizations helping to provide shelter and resources to those in need.

“There’s a lot of untreated and undiagnosed mental health that we see with the population we serve,” said Rex Brian, the vice president of emergency services at SAMMinistries. “The need is still definitely here.”

Kevin is one of those people getting help from SAMMinistries.

“I want to do work and save money,” Kevin, who is experiencing homelessness, said.

But not everyone trusts the shelters in San Antonio. Josiah, a man also experiencing homelessness, said he’s often met with broken promises.

“It’s all ‘my way or the highway’ kind of thing,” Josiah said. “San Antonio means the holy anointed city. They should start acting like it.”

Multiple people KSAT 12 spoke with who are currently without shelter say their biggest concern with the city is repeated encampment abatements, or sweeps.

“We get harassed almost every day,” Ricardo said. “People go through hard times. People go through struggles. They lose their places. They end up in the streets.”

So far in Fiscal Year 2024, city crews have completed more than 500 homeless encampments abatements. These increased over the last year. A spokesperson for the Solid Waste Management Department said only about 47 of these cleanups happened downtown, and most of them were toward the outskirts of the neighborhood.

Encampment abatements - recurring abatement sites in downtown San Antonio. (City of San Antonio)

Fred Alvarado, the CEO of Broken Warrior Angels, said this is causing movement for the homeless population in San Antonio right now.

“They have no choice but to go out,” Alvarado said.

That’s why downtown neighborhood leaders say it’s so important to make people experiencing homelessness feel part of the community.

“They’re part of the fabric of downtown as well, and they should be taken into consideration,” Amina Thomas with the Urbanisitas Neighborhood Association said.

San Antonio is on track for more than 1,000 homeless camp cleanups this year. To read more, click here.

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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!

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