FIGHTING HOMELESSNESS

New report finds fewer people residing in San Antonio shelters during the pandemic

New report finds fewer people residing in local shelters amid pandemic

San Antonio River Walk skyline with park
The annual local homelessness count shows some promising findings. Photo by dszc/Getty Images

As the issue of homelessness in Central Texas continues to boil up on both sides, and in wake of Austin’s newly passed homeless-focused camping ban, one San Antonio agency’s recent findings show the coronavirus pandemic led to a drop in the number of people staying in Bexar County shelters.

On Friday, May 14, the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, or SARAH, released its recent findings on the state of homelessness in San Antonio and Bexar County, which compares how many people in the community are experiencing homelessness this year compare with previous years.

SARAH, the lead Continuum of Care agency for San Antonio and Bexar County, secures and distributes funding for service providers in the housing and homeless community, and offers guidance aimed at strengthening policies and programs. It also collects data on the local homeless community, including the annual Point-in-Time Count, a national homelessness count that occurs each January. The count helps determine federal Housing and Urban Development funding decisions and also informs planning decisions at the local level.

According to SARAH’s 2021 Point-in-Time Count Report, there was a 10 percent decrease in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in local shelters in the past year, with the count totaling 1,499 in 2021 versus 1,658 in 2020. The organization attributes this decrease to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions, which reduced the number of individuals and families seeking temporary shelter.

Additionally, that moratorium on evictions, combined with concerns about COVID-19, also led to a 41 percent decrease in the number of families taking refuge in shelters, dropping by 111 to a total of 158 in 2021, according to the report.

And with SARAH noting that San Antonio continues to lead the country in its efforts to house any veteran experiencing homelessness within 90 days, the organization’s Point-in-Time Count shows a 23 percent drop in the number of veterans in shelters, dipping year-over-year from 159 to 123.

While those figures are encouraging for the local community, the SARAH report did show an increase — to the tune of 66 percent — in the number of individuals in shelters experiencing chronic homelessness. That number increased from 138 to 229 for 2021, with this group now accounting for 15 percent of the entire population in shelters, though SARAH says this represents a positive change, as it means this population is moving off the streets and into community shelters where they can access services.  

At the heart of the homelessness issue is the direct correlation to mental health, and the SARAH report finds that 71 percent of individuals who were engaged through street outreach reported having a mental-health condition, which SARAH says must be met with expanded supportive permanent housing options so the needs of this population can be met.

The full 2021 Point-in-Time Count Report, which drills further down into homelessness demographics and related issues that impact homelessness, is available on the SARAH website.