Sylvia Becerra has at least four Christmas trees in her cozy apartment near South Texas Medical Center in San Antonio. The larger fake tree shines in the corner of his living room, and a group of several smaller ones can be found in the opposite corner, surrounding a manger.
Crosses and angels dot its walls. The shelves are filled with knick-knacks and family photos.
“Guess who it is,” asks Becerra, 64, pointing to a photo of a smiling man next to a young boy.
âGarth Brooks! ” she said. When his young nephew met the country music star, he just had to seize the moment.
Last Christmas these valuables and decorations weren’t neatly displayed on the shelves. They were crammed into Becerra’s car, where she lived for two years.
Originally from Kingsville, she followed her two children to San Antonio in 2008. An argument with someone she lived with caused her to leave her home. His disability checks alone couldn’t cover the rent, especially with a bond. So she found refuge in her black Kia sedan, often sleeping in parking lots.
Her eyes fill with tears when she remembers that time – and when SAMMinistries was able to give her vouchers to pay her rent.
âThey have been a blessingâ¦ so wonderful,â she said.
Becerra was one of more than 500 homeless people the Bexar County network of government and nonprofit agencies have been able to house since the local “housing push” initiative began on August 1. As of mid-December, 565 permanent housing placements were reported.
“We are grateful for [the agenciesâ] unmatched commitment, compassion and courage to help our most vulnerable neighbors during another difficult year – but [these agencies] need our support, âKatie Vela, executive director of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, said in a press release. âWe need to increase the availability of housing, including permanent supportive housing, to meet the present and future needs of our homeless residents. “
SAMMinistries and dozens of other agencies, including the city’s Department of Social Services, were able to find housing for an average of more than four people a day, about double their previous rate.
These agencies would gladly continue at this pace, but it’s a question of funding, SAMMinistries President and CEO Nikisha Baker told the San Antonio report. âThere was a federal collective [coronavirus relief] resources that have poured into the partners involved in this push. When these resources go missing in February or March for most of usâ¦ it impacts how many people we can accommodate – individually as an organization but also collectively as a community.
A housing spree, in some ways, will continue as Mayor Ron Nirenberg joined more than two dozen U.S. leaders in November in pledging to house thousands of homeless people by the end of the year ‘next year.
The local objective, set by the city’s social and neighborhood and housing services departments, is to subsidize permanent housing for 1,500 homeless people and to start building 860 additional housing units for the population of by the end of 2022.
Additional funding for homeless mitigation and prevention services could come from the next round of US city or county bailout allocations, which have not been finalized.
Another funding opportunity is a $ 150 million housing bond that voters will see on the ballot in May. The housing bond, as proposed by a citizens’ committee (pending city council approval), includes $ 25 million for permanent supportive housing. This is housing for the homeless that includes comprehensive services such as physical and mental health care.
âWe know that as a community we need around 1,000 units to meet the needs of chronically homeless people right now,â Baker said. âAn allocation of $ 25 million means we can add 250 units to the inventory, which is big and substantial. It doesn’t get us here. We must continue this fight. “
SAMMinistries has the largest inventory of permanent supportive housing in San Antonio, with 175 active units and 60 in the pipeline.
âWhether it’s real estate surety, or whether it’s taking advantage of public-private partnerships, tax credit opportunities – whatever that sounds like, this is the job we do. have to keep doing to increase inventories, âshe said – and that includes affordable housing.
This month, city council approved a 10-year, $ 3 billion plan to meet the community’s affordable housing needs, and the housing bond will play a role in that plan in producing and sustaining affordable housing. .
âI think this is going to be a time of transformation for our community because I think we can do so much for so many people,â Baker said.
For people like Becerra.
During winter storm Uri – which dumped 6.4 inches of snow on San Antonians in February, many without water or electricity for days – she was able to leave her car and stay in a house with friends for most nights single digit.
âI was not the only one there,â she said, remembering the other people she met who had no homes. âI don’t know how people do this. “
This winter, she’s happy to have her own roof over her head, the names of her five grandchildren on her door, and her trusty car parked outside.
âHe went through it all with me,â she said. “It’s a great little car.”