Haven for Hope

A great article from the Los Angeles Times on the homeless program we suggest Sacramento copy and adapt.

An excerpt.

It used to be that Ron Brown would work the storefronts of downtown San Antonio, trying to persuade homeless people to leave the city streets for a shelter.

Now the outreach worker’s daily missions take him more often to freeway overpasses and wooded areas outside town because the downtown homeless count has plummeted, from nearly 800 in 2010 to just over 100 last year.

The change reflects an unusual effort to deal with the homeless population in the city famous for the Alamo and the River Walk.

Guided by a retired oil and gas executive who has put millions of dollars into a personal vision, San Antonio has departed from the prevailing thinking of today’s homeless services establishment.

While federal policymakers and providers across the country espouse the “housing first” philosophy that strives to move people through shelters into permanent housing quickly, San Antonio has embraced a traditional model of extended shelter while encouraging personal transformation.

The vision is that of William E. Greehey, former chief executive of San Antonio-based refining giant Valero. In retirement, Greehey yearned for a cause.

He and his wife “could not figure out what I wanted to do that would make a difference,” Greehey said. “We prayed about it.”

His prayer was answered by a local television report on homelessness

“What I saw was that all we were doing was recycling the homeless people that would go to jail, come out of jail, get sick, go to the emergency room, get treated, get back on the street. We weren’t doing anything to address the root cause of why these people were homeless,” he said.

For the next five years, Greehey lobbied San Antonio officials and cajoled other wealthy Texans. In 2010 his efforts culminated in the $101-million Haven for Hope, a Texas-sized shelter.

Covering 23 acres, it most resembles a junior college campus. Haven has dormitories for 850, detox and psychiatric observation units, a sobering center and medical and dental clinics. Even a YMCA. There’s a free-standing chapel, serving the program’s faith orientation, and a for-profit call center staffed by shelter residents or, as they’re called, “members.”

At a more typical shelter, those services might have to be brought in or residents shuttled to them by bus. At Haven, everything is a short walk away. At the center of campus, smartly designed buildings encircle a grassy quad. Children play soccer there after returning from school. Adults stroll or relax on park benches between appointments for case management, training, psychotherapy and healthcare.

More than 60 nonprofit partners are on campus, including St. Vincent de Paul, which feeds the campus, and Street2Feet, a jogging club. Staff members, distinguishable only by their ID cards, intermingle on the grounds, greeting residents by name with palpable affection.

That’s the Haven for Hope that stands out on promotional materials.

There’s also an uncomfortable counterpoint. It’s the Courtyard, an expansive slab of concrete where those who are not ready for “transformation” sleep. Every night up to 750 people crowd into an open-air space that was designed for 400. They eat in a large hall, collect their mattresses and find a spot on the concrete.

The Courtyard was a concession to members of the City Council who wanted a spartan facility that would help motivate the homeless to enter Haven for Hope, which is more attractive but also demands more of residents.

“When I started working with the city on this, the city was not as interested in transformation as they were in finding a place for these people to go to get them off the street,” Greehey said. “So that’s how we settled with two campuses.”

The Courtyard has achieved some of the results its backers hoped for. More than 5,500 former Courtyard residents have moved onto the transformational campus, says Scott Ackerson, Haven’s former vice president for strategic relationships. For hundreds more it provides an alternative to the dangers of the downtown streets and the attention of law enforcement.

Police Chief William McManus once had a hard-nosed policy on the homeless. He now concedes it did little but bring him chagrin.

The frequent arrests under his watch came under fire when local reporters found a homeless man who had received more than 1,000 citations. Then McManus met ridicule when he proposed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to give money to panhandlers.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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