San Antonio Registry Week Identifies Chronically Homeless, Including Many Vets

Posted June 28, 2013

Over 100 volunteers took to the streets of San Antonio earlier this month to compile a by-name and photo detailed registry of the region’s homeless. Participants in San Antonio Registry Week, a local partnership with the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, surveyed 441 homeless individuals on San Antonio streets, identifying more than 40 percent of them as medically vulnerable and at increased risk of death. The effort specifically worked to find as many homeless veterans as possible, given the city’s large veteran population.

Two individuals—a 90-yr-old woman and her aging daughter– were moved into permanent housing immediately, and organizers have already identified housing resources for at least 100 more, including many veterans.

“Registry Week has been an overwhelming success,” said local Campaign coordinator Rachel Cavazos, Director of Community Initiatives for the Housing Authority of Bexar County. “This level of collaboration among service providers, businesses, government officials and local volunteers feels new. It’s a huge testament to the determination of so many who work with our homeless neighbors. I’ve never been so hopeful that we can end homelessness in San Antonio.”

Volunteers gathered data using the Vulnerability Index, a 34-item questionnaire developed by the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Volunteer teams captured data on health status, institutional history (jail, prison, hospital, and military), length of homelessness, patterns of shelter or mission use, and previous housing situations. In the coming months, local housing and service providers will use this data to identify the most vulnerable members of the region’s homeless population and prioritize them for permanent housing. This housing-based approach is a proven strategy for ending homelessness, and exhaustive studies confirm that it saves taxpayer significant money when compared with leaving the homeless on the streets.

The Vulnerability Index is based on research by Dr. Jim O’Connell of Harvard University, which shows that certain medical conditions place homeless individuals at much higher risk of death than members of the general population facing identical conditions.

179 homeless individuals in San Antonio qualified as vulnerable by this standard. Of these, 31 are veterans, comprising over 50 percent of all homeless veterans surveyed.

“San Antonio’s results are startling, but they’re not unusual,” said Becky Kanis, Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. “We have a long tradition in this country of managing homelessness instead of ending it. This event is a first step toward creating a new future in which a lifetime of homelessness doesn’t have to happen to people anymore, but we have to get serious about permanent housing.”

“I’m proud to support this effort, especially because it offers hope to so many of our veterans,” said Alfred A. Valenzuela, Haven for Hope board member and Army combat veteran, and a board member of Haven for Hope “As a retired General born and raised in this military city, I have a long love affair with both the military and this community. The joining of forces between the military and the community offers a tremendous bridge toward helping our veterans make contributions to San Antonio and vice-versa. No American should ever wear the uniform of this country and return home to a life on the streets.”

San Antonio, which has long been known as “Military City, USA,” is seen as an especially important place to target homeless veterans for housing, given its large veteran population and abundance of military resources and institutions.

To date, other communities, like San Antonio, participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign have found permanent housing for more than 16,000 chronically homeless veterans. The Campaign hopes to reach 20,000 in the next year.