What could Austin learn from San Antonio's homeless shelter model?

With the City of Austin struggling to help the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness, FOX 7 Austin was curious what other nearby cities have done to decrease their own homeless population. 

Our neighbor to the south, San Antonio, said they have seen a positive impact since the Haven for Hope campus opened in 2010. 

Haven for Hope outreach manager Ron Brown is no stranger to the streets of San Antonio. 

“It was always in me to do something like this, I just had no clue it would be to this magnitude,” Brown said.  

The pastor began visiting with people experiencing homelessness 10 years ago to help Bexar County's most vulnerable population get back on their feet. 

“A lot of these folks been out here 5, 10, 15, I know some people have been out here 25 years, and they sort of get invisible,” said Brown.  

He made it his mission to see them and accept them. 

“Befriending people and loving on people where they are, and going to them, lets them know that, ‘Hey this person must care about me if he's coming to me,’” Brown said.  

Ron wants to help. 

“It takes time, it takes quite a bit of time,” said Brown.  

Ron takes his message straight to those living on the edge of society and gives people who feel like they're out of options a choice. 

“Why don't you come on and give it a try, give the campus a shot? We could help you,” Brown tells anyone who appears to be living on the street.  

Rejection is a part of the process, but it doesn't stop him from helping where he can. Reminding everyone he meets, there's hope at Haven for Hope. 

Before Edward Aguero was searching through Haven’s warehouse filled with free clothing to help his clients, he was looking for help getting back on his own feet. 

“I had tried many, many times to get off the streets. I had tried many times to stop the substance use. And I just couldn't stop until I came here and things began to change,” Aguero said.  

After three years without shelter, Edward agreed to take a chance at Haven for Hope. 

“I had no real plans to change my life at that time. To be perfectly honest, I just wanted to get something to eat and have a warm bed to sleep in that day,” said Aguero.  

Now, he's one of more than 4,000 people who found permanent housing through Haven's program.

“I think the key thing for working with folks that are experiencing homelessness is to get to their root cause of their homelessness. Find out what that is, deal with that, their life changes,” said Gary Chance, vice president of transformational services at Haven.   

“I have a bank account, I have my own vehicle, I'm actually working with a realtor to purchase a home. It's pretty amazing,” Aguero said.  

The $101 million, 22-acre campus provides those ready to make a change with much more than a typical shelter. 

“They're very good at surviving, they're not very good at living, so we want to teach these folks how to live,” Chance said.  

By design, Haven for Hope offers emergency shelter, short-term residential housing, education programs, job training, healthcare, mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, child care, legal services, a food bank, donated clothing store and even kennels for those who come in with pets, all in one place. 

“So, while they're experiencing crisis, they need shelter, and so you do need that, and then you need services there that aren't across town,” said Kami King, senior director of transformational direct services at Haven for Hope. 

The campus is funded primarily by private donors, only 40 percent comes from the government, including the City of San Antonio. 

“Has it made a difference? Yes, it has. It has made a lot of difference with the safe sleeping, especially downtown,” Chance said.   

The year Haven for Hope opened, the homeless population in downtown San Antonio was at about 800, many of them living on the city's famous River Walk, but since then the number has dropped to about 100, in part, thanks to Haven for Hope's outreach team. 
“When I drive through downtown now, it's like night and day from when I first started. There’s not too many homeless folks downtown,” Brown said.  

Now other city leaders visit Haven for Hope to get ideas about how to better serve their own homeless population. 

“I don't have the answer for the country. What we do is, we share what we do, and, hopefully, folks will be able to take what we share with them and, if they can apply some of those things in their community, that will make a difference,” said Chance.  

“Everyone has to say, ‘Yes, this is a problem because it's not okay for anyone to experience homelessness,’ and, ‘What can I do to solve it?’” King said.  

For Ron, solving it starts with reminding people there is a safe place to lay their head that night.  

“One thing I know is that we're not going to end homelessness, but my hope and prayer is that if someone does become homeless they know they have some options,” said Brown. 

Haven for Hope executives said Austin city leaders have visited their campus more than once and Haven employees have also given presentations to some city stakeholders.