Recently meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in over eight years brought back some old memories.
In the early 2000’s, as the Director of Facilities Management for H-E-B Foods/Drugs, one of my employees, Greg Weaver asked me to accompany him to some acreage on Babcock Road in northwest San Antonio. The land would later become the location where a store is now.
Greg had been locking the front gate to our property, but someone had been repeatedly cutting the locks and chains.
When we drove in, there was a village of homeless residents, hidden from the street by trees and brush. They had created makeshift huts and tents. Old car seats were used as couches. There were empty wine, liquor, beer bottles, cans, trash and needles scattered throughout.
Particularly alarming were the innocent children playing in their back yards, oblivious to the 30 or so homeless neighbors separated from them by a six foot long cedar border fence.
From Weaver’s experience with them, they weren’t interested in leaving the property and had no use for rules or laws. This community had their own rules, hierarchies and a faux mini-government.
We ended up cleaning the acreage by clearing brush, thinning trees and eventually building a store.
Since 2017, New York’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program has relocated over 5,000 of their families to other cities across the nation.
This has scattered their homeless to other cities to take on the associated burdens. Texas is discovering a new wave of homeless being bused into many cities with little to no notice for preparation.
With winter approaching, many southern cities are already overburdened with their resources.
In San Antonio, some citizen groups are sharing city ordinances as a guide to use when reporting violations to the police. These include:
1. Article 1, Sec 21-28: Makes it illegal to camp in a public place. (tent cities)
2. Article 1, Sec 21-27: Makes it illegal to urinate/defecate in a public place. Homeless camp sites have no toilet facilities.
3. Article 1, Sec 21-29: Aggressive solicitation (panhandling).
4. Article 1, Sec 21-26 Sitting or laying down in public right of way. Sleeping or hanging out on sidewalks, building entrances, public access areas. Soliciting on public streets.
5. Article 1, Sec 21-19: Washing windshield of motor vehicle on public street.
6. Article 1, Sec 29-03: Depositing litter, trash, or waste material on public land. (garbage at tent cities)
“If we intend to follow in the path of Austin, Houston, and other notorious cities with homeless camp sites, we only have to turn a blind eye,” said Unite San Antonio administrator David Moore. “We have a beautiful city; we need to keep it that way.”
“I use to volunteer for an organization that would help homeless people get themselves off the ground,” replied Gilbert Carrizales. “The unfortunate truth is that a vast majority of these people are drug addicts, have mental health issues or just don’t want to be helped. They have lost the ability to comprehend what it means to have a work ethic or motivation. It’s truly saddening, but that’s just what it is.”
For over four years, I lived above the Majestic Theater in the heart of San Antonio a block from the River Walk. I wrote extensively about the homeless for Examiner and other internet news outlets.
One interesting man I met playing saxophone for tips outside the Majestic was Conrad Joseph. He fell on hard times, had a minor stroke, but kept his positive spirit.
Joseph had played for such musical greats as B.B. King, Wilson Pickett and for a while was one of the touring Drells of Archie Bell and The Drells of “Tighten Up” fame.
When I had the opportunity to interview King in his tour bus before a concert at the Majestic, I mentioned Joseph.
Not only did B.B. King arrange to have Joseph be his guest at the performance (they hadn’t seen each other in over 25 years), but helped him get on his feet with some lodging.
I interviewed many homeless, citizens, police, park rangers and visitors. A bold attempt, called the Haven for Hope program began at sheltered facilities just west of downtown.
Homeless individuals and families have to earn their way with chores, good citizenship and following their rules. I saw some good things happened, but I also witnessed much sadness.
I was accosted with a knife by a homeless man on St. Mary’s Street just blocks from my home. Fortunately, I was able to manhandle the knife out of his hand and knock him down. Some city utility workers saw what was happening and gave chase as he ran away.
We flagged down a police officer on bike patrol and they found him later. Servers at the nearby Blanco Cafe, washed my scrapes and said he had been in their earlier acting strange and talking to himself.
Residents downtown came to realize it was better not to give the homeless money as usually they bought liquor, drugs or cigarettes with it.
Occasionally I would buy a couple loaves of bread and peanut butter to pass out sandwiches. A good 60 percent would thank me, 20 percent lashed out or acted angry and the remainder were basically silent.