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Many San Antonio Homeless People Refuse Service from New Outreach Teams


The IMPACT teams are a new approach to helping San Antonio's homeless. - FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
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  • The IMPACT teams are a new approach to helping San Antonio's homeless.
Almost 40 percent of the people contacted by the San Antonio Police Department’s IMPACT teams, special units designed to refer homeless people to services, have refused help.

Police Chief William McManus reported those figures today at a meeting of the City Council Public Safety Committee. He said that the IMPACT teams had contacted 453 people between October 2015 and April 2016.

Of those 453 people:

-181 refused services
-141 were referred to services
-76 were detained
-55 were sent to detoxification treatment

McManus launched the teams shortly after coming back on the job in 2015. They’re meant to serve as a new strategy to help homeless people in San Antonio’s central city. Rather than “arrest the problem away,” IMPACT teams seek a more holistic solution by coordinating with social services, addiction counselors and other health care providers, housing agencies and other groups to provide solutions directly to homeless people.

McManus said that the agencies the teams most often referred people to were Haven for Hope, Crisis Health Center, Nix Hospital, Methodist Hospital and the Salvation Army. He claimed that the approach is providing a model for other cities to follow.

“We think we have a really, really bad problem here. And our problem with the homeless is daunting. But we are in much better shape than most other cities throughout the country. They actually look for us as a model of how to deal with the homeless issue,” McManus said.

When asked by Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran about the number of people who have refused services, McManus said that “if they’re not breaking the law and they’re not a danger to themselves, we don’t have the authority to … force them to go.

"They have a right to be on a park bench or a street corner as much as anybody else does,” he said. 

Councilman Roberto Treviño, whose district includes part of Downtown, remarked that there's recently been a "noticeable difference" in the number of homeless people in the Downtown area. McManus noted that's partly because the presence of the IMPACT teams has displaced some homeless people, who have moved out of the area because they do not want to be approached by the teams.

Although the program follows the housing first model, which McManus noted that the biggest need is “beds,” and places where people can stay while seeking out other services.

“We still have a lot of work to do, there really is no finish line here,” McManus said. “But I think we’re in good hands with the IMPACT teams and the advocacy agencies we work with.”

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