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Pushing Haven option, Council mulls more restrictions on homeless residents

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

55-year-old homeless resident Kenneth Smith at Prospects Courtyard.


Still, officials insist the stories are overblown, “urban legends” and rumors that have taken on a life of their own. Cross says they may stem from a fear of institutionalization, adding, “Some people simply don’t want to be here because we do have some rules.” Complaints over a prison-like atmosphere are unfounded, he says, citing that people are free to come and go as they please. Outreach workers with the Center say they forward any complaints they hear to management and security, but still insist that conditions inside Prospects are pristine compared to the former SAMM shelter, or to a night on the streets.

Trinity University’s most recent Point in Time survey, a yearly study of San Antonio’s homeless population, shows that nearly 40 percent of the city’s homeless have been on the streets or in and out of shelters for more than a year. Roughly 22 percent don’t own a government ID, making it even more difficult to connect them to government services or medical treatment. A large portion, according to the report, are disabled, suffer from a mental illness, or both. About 62 percent report being employed, but don’t earn enough to afford stable housing. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed for the study blame loss of job or income for making them homeless.

Gregory Franchetti, 47, has spent the past two weeks in and out of Prospects Courtyard, saying he lost his job earlier this year. “I couldn’t find work, I lost my apartment, and I just didn’t know what else to do,” he said. “In the blink of an eye, you can be on the street, you really can. I didn’t think that could ever happen to me. …I didn’t save my money, didn’t invest in the right things, ended up blowing it on gambling, things like that.”

“People are hungry, they do things they shouldn’t do. They’re hungry and they’re desperate. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people, but we start self medicating,” he said. “I’m no exception.”

A similar situation landed Stuart Heltne, 45, on the streets three years ago, when, fired from a welding job, he could no longer pay his bills. Steady work never came, and he was evicted from his apartment, his van eventually repossessed. “I never thought I’d be out here this long,” he said. “I just want to work.”

 

Over the past month, City Council, with prodding from fed-up downtown business owners and residents, has eyed stricter so-called panhandling laws, designed to crack down on aggressive solicitation – following or intimidating potential donors, harassing or making physical contact, or continuing to beg for goods after the someone’s already said no.

The new ordinance, proposed by Council’s Public Safety Committee, doubles the areas where panhandlers are automatically cited, regardless of how nicely they ask for change, expanding no-solicitation zones around ATMs, entrances to banks and check cashing facilities, bus stops, busses and crosswalks from 25 feet to 50 feet. The ordinance also adds several other items to the no-solicitation list: restaurants, outdoor patio and dining areas, public parking garages and pay stations, as well as parking meters.

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