SAN ANTONIO – People on the west side have told San Antonio’s police chief crime is up, and they blame the new neighbors at Haven For Hope.
The shelter helps families every day. Officers describe most of the residents as people who have fallen on hard times and need some help to turn things around.
News 4 WOAI spent the day with officers who describe the problem in terms of location. They say in the days of the old SAMM Shelter, the homeless congregated under a bridge so the problem was contained.
Now, at no fault of Haven For Hope, officers say once people leave the shelter, there’s just no where to go but the west side neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, officers have to toe the line between the rights of the neighborhood and the homeless.
"How are you doing,” Officer James Shirley asks a homeless man.
The 18-year veteran of SAPD is on a first-name basis with many of San Antonio’s homeless.
"We deal with the same ones day after day after day,” Officer Shirley says. "This is something I do every day when I first get in. My job is to run them off."
He’s a SAFFE officer so instead of responding to calls, he’s usually trying to keep them from happening.
"We have the time to go out there and take care of problems,” Officer Shirley says.
And a big problem is hiding in plain sight: homelessness. It’s always been an issue downtown, but neighbors of Haven For Hope say it’s only gotten worse since the shelter moved to the western edge of the city’s center.
Officer Shirley says it’s not that simple.
"They say it's the Haven's fault. It's the SAMM's fault,” Officer Shirley says. “The people that are inside that shelter that are trying to get the help, we have families in there. Mom and dad, for whatever reason, lost their homes and things. You don't hear from those people."
Instead, he says the problems stem from a small group of people that go to Haven for the free food and clothes but don’t want to play by the rules.
"You can see they have their beer bottles beside them right there,” Officer Shirley says while driving past a bike patrol officer issuing tickets to several people drinking in public.
The area around Haven has plenty of signs that make it clear: no stopping, no standing.
"These bridges make really good hiding places,” Officer Shirley says while driving underneath the I-10/I-35 interchange.
He took News 4 into the bushes between the lanes of I-10.
"Let's see what they have in here,” Officer Shirley says while pulling aside branches.
We found cardboard beds and liquor bottles – instead of tent cities, bush cities, where life zips by at 60 miles an hour.
"This house we're going to right now has been used for years for prostitution and drugs,” Officer Shirley says.
We found a squatter’s den on Santiago Street. The smell of feces and urine permeated the air.
"They take all the copper wiring out as soon as they find a vacant house so they can sell the copper wire,” Officer Shirley says about the dilapidated home.
He says when neighbors complain about Haven For Hope and crime, this house is an example of why they’re upset.
"On the floor right there, the condoms,” Officer Shirley says. "They use this [soda can] to cook heroin in. This is part of a syringe."
There’s nothing left to salvage so the city knocked it down Friday morning.
"There's a lot of times we're doing this and the citizens actually come out and say thank you,” Officer Shirley says as a crew demolishes the structure.
The process took just ten minutes. Officers say they get some satisfaction from seeing it demolished, but there’s always going to be another one.
“They find somewhere else to go,” Officer Shirley says.
But he says at least one block gets some peace from the intersection of a life of crime and a life spent on the streets.