Figures released by the U.S. Department of Houston and Urban Development show the total number of people who are listed as 'homeless' in Texas has fallen sharply in 2013, and the number of homeless in San Antonio has fallen by even more, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The figures are based on so called 'homeless censuses' which are taken in urban areas around the country in the spring, when volunteers fan out to homeless shelters and under bridges, generally early in the morning, and go about the daunting task of counting the number of people who are homeless.
The 2013 homeless census counted a total of 2,980 people who are listed as 'homeless' in San Antonio, that’s down from 3,670 in 2012 and the lowest figure since 2009.
Navarra Williams, President and CEO of San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries, which operates the city's largest homeless facilities, credits a change in strategy by those who help the homeless. He says during the Great Recession, when many families found themselves unable to pay the rent or the mortgage on their home, volunteers focused on helping those families pay those bills and stay in their homes, rather than engaging in the usually more expensive proposition of helping the family once they had fallen into homelessness.
"SAMMinistries has helped 17,000 people avoid homelessness over the past five years, including 10,000 children, certainly slowed the tide of people that are going into homelessness," Williams said.
He also points to the opening of the Haven for Hope homeless campus, which is geared not only toward providing temporary shelter for the homeless but also in providing them vocational and job training, for helping reduce the homeless population.
The only area where the homeless population has increased in San Antonio is among the so called 'chronically homeless.' Those are the people that come to mind when you think of a 'homeless' person, the generally male drifter who lives under bridges and avoids shelters.
Williams says the increase in the census count of these individuals is also a victory, because it shows that the 'chronically homeless' are willing to be counted, and may be open to services.
"We are identifying people and we now know where they are, unlike previously, when they were out in the community hiding from us," he said.
Texas saw an overall 13% decline in its homeless population in 2013, with an estimated 30,000 people listed as homeless across the state.
Williams says something else that is changing with the homeless population is that officials are finally attacking the root causes of homelessness, instead of simply giving the homeless a place to sleep.
"Some of them and many of them have an issue, either a mental health issue or a substance abuse issue," Williams said. "Those things are also being dealt with."