CITY OF SAN ANTONIO, TX
Mayor Howard W. Peak

Coordinated Strategy to Prevent Homelessness

Description of Program /When and Why Created / Measurement of Effectiveness / Financing / Linkage to City Government

San Antonio. s Continuum of Care process predates the Continuum of Care "system" established by passage of the Stewart B. McKinney Act. San Antonio is the eighth largest city in the country with a poverty rate, based on 1990 Census data, of approximately 21.6%. Of this percentage, in 1995, only about 12% received welfare assistance. This indicated that approximately 88% were working poor. San Antonio today enjoys an unprecedented low unemployment rate that fluctuates between 3-5% and a relatively strong economy. Hence, there exists a paradox of a strong economy and a high poverty rate.

Established in 1964, the Community Action Agency (CAA) in San Antonio is the major single organization that serves as the local safety net preventing thousands of residents from becoming homeless. In San Antonio today the Community Action Division (CAD) is a public CAA within the City. s Department of Community Initiatives. Its total budget is over $30 million dollars from a variety of local, state and federal resources. The CAD is the cornerstone agency for this network of emergency assistance services. The Community Action Agency partners and collaborates with a number of community-based organizations to assist San Antonians that may be faced with eviction, foreclosure or the loss or disruption of utility services. Funded through a variety of sources, the CAA is the recipient of Community Services Block Grant, that provides funding for the above reference services and other assistance, such as food, child care, transportation, clothing, etc. which assist San Antonians from becoming homeless.

However, just as the rest of the country experienced a downturn in the economy in the eighties, San Antonio also found itself confronted with the manifestations of the impact of this downturn on the poor working class. In response, initiated in 1982, the San Antonio Continuum of Care, was initiated by the CAA as an unofficial gathering of a small group of concerned people from the faith community, the academic and business sectors, community-based organizations, the United Way, and the City and Country governments.

These traditionally competing agencies assembled to craft a strategic plan to address the needs of the growing homeless population in San Antonio. For the past 16 years, the Continuum has evolved into an informed, dynamic, collaborative effort bringing about positive change in the lives of individuals and families experiencing homelessness in San Antonio. Today with over 90 participants, the San Antonio Continuum of Care is an exemplary delivery system model created through the effective coordination of a concerned community.

As the CAA, the Community Action Division is designated grantee of all homeless entitlement and competitive grants. In this capacity as the grant administrator, the CAD through its grants management system is able to monitor for contractual compliance, evaluate programs, administer grant funds and eliminate any duplication. The CAD facilitates all Continuum meetings and activities and when necessary mediates between agencies.

In addition to reviewing programmatic and fiscal data, the CAD is able to assess a program. s effectiveness through tracking the recidivism rates among the homeless population. It is important to note that the Continuum services are a response to the demonstrated needs of homeless people.

Outcomes of past projects sponsored by the agencies evidence the fact that the Continuum process effectively blends professional expertise, education and support to empower homeless people to gain greater self-determination in accessing permanent housing opportunities. In addition to assisting homeless persons with their basic and special housing needs, the Continuum agencies also offer a host of supportive services to help clients move toward the ultimate goal of permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

The strength of the SA Continuum of Care lies in the depth of commitment of its members. This reflected in the Continuum. s efforts to engage homeless and formerly homeless people, homeless service providers, local government and the business, faith, and general communities in all aspects of its mission to address homelessness. Once engaged in the system, participants challenge each other to set aside their personal agendas, lose their organizational identities and focus on the common goal. To facilitate this process, the Continuum meets regularly throughout the year and participates in various local, state and national organizations and networks.

The Continuum meets to discuss current issues, coordinate the delivery of services, and encourage interaction between all stakeholders. The SA Continuum works cohesively to collect the data necessary to complete demographic profiles, produce inventories on existing services, identify gaps in service deliver, and prioritize needs. The Continuum also works together to ensure the coordination of services through the sharing of resources and planning for new services.

The Continuum further strengthens its ability to combat homelessness by creating linkages between homeless service providers and mainstream service providers outside the community. Members gain a better understanding of the problems and possible solutions to ending homelessness by participating in discussions and attending seminars and workshops.

Through relations formed by participating in the Continuum process, members assemble and successfully collaborate to obtain additional resources from various private organizations and federal agencies. In addition, Continuum members utilized the concept of collaboration to create partnerships with a host of mainstream social service agencies, grassroots groups, and faith-based organizations to increase the resources and opportunities available to assist homeless people.

Major Lessons Learned

Lessons learned are plentiful. Inclusiveness is the critical element of any approach where the stakeholders are as diverse as the issues being addressed. "Depoliticizing" the process is equally important. Consumer participation is paramount to the success of any Continuum process. It is important to take the time to hold strategic planning session(s) that begin with the development of a vision for a community that addresses homelessness.

The City of San Antonio recognizes that developing a Continuum of Care process in a community is an ongoing dynamic process that changes through the years. Implemented correctly, and with strong follow-through, the process can create a strong plan to alleviate homelessness in any community. Using quantitative and qualitative data analysis from documented sources will produce a strong needs assessment. This will lead to identifying agencies to address the community. s needs through streamlined, collaborative efforts. Increased efficiency, resources and effectiveness will improve services delivery thus increasing responsiveness to break down the barriers that homeless people face every day.

Contact person. Rolando J. Morales City of San Antonio Community Action Manager P.O. Box 839966 San Antonio, TX 78283 Telephone: 210-207-7855 Fax: 210-297-7843 Email: rmorales@ci.sat.tx.us

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