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Temporary Apartments For Unhoused People Could Be Available By Winter


Hotels and motels for people in need of emergency housing have cost the city and county $2.6 million since March 2020. Apartments are a cheaper option.

People experiencing homelessness in Hamilton County may have the option to live in apartments temporarily this winter. The effort is still in the planning phases and could cut operational costs while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Kevin Finn, chief executive officer of Strategies to End Homelessness, says the eight shelter providers in the county had to enact social distance policies to protect people during the pandemic. When space ran out, people were put in hotel and motel rooms. The total effort has cost about $2.6 million since March 2020, which came from federal, city and county resources.

"It's incredibly expensive to put people in hotel and motel rooms. So, what we're trying to figure out now is a way for the shelter operators to rent apartments that they would use, in a fashion similar to how they used hotel and motel rooms up to this point, but at a much lower cost," Finn said.

He says, however, it's unclear whether the Department of Housing and Urban Development will approve federal money to be spent on apartments.

"The dollars that we're spending right now, at this moment, to have homeless families in hotel rooms, are primarily dollars that we just have to negotiate with the city and the county," he said. "The dollars we would expect to be using by this winter are dollars that come through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, so we would have to work that out with HUD."

It's unclear how much money would be available for the plan if it's approved. But if it gets the green light, he said, then efforts can be made to hash out more details, like where people would live and how many people could be helped.

Currently, families needing emergency shelter are primarily those living in hotels and motels. Single people, though, are back in shelters.

Arlene Nolan, executive director at Shelterhouse, says some social distancing, masks, hand sanitizer and vaccine clinics are all a part of keeping those shelters safe for people.

"It is terrible for anybody not to have any options for shelter. So given that, we just make sure that we are doing our very best to keep people safe. But we absolutely believe everybody has a right to shelter. And so that's our main priority," she said.

Currently, the Shelterhouse has 210 beds available for people. But when the winter shelter opens in November or December, the facilities can see about twice that amount of people and prepares for overflow. But last winter, they kept the shelters around 60% capacity and couldn't safely accommodate any overflow.

A combination of social distancing and people's fear of the virus meant shelters throughout the county served fewer people. Last year, 5,624 people used local shelter services as opposed to 6,638 the previous year.

Finn says while plans are being made for the apartments, there's still the chance to pivot toward Plan B if HUD doesn't approve: moving more people into motels and hotels as the virus surges and winter sets in.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.