A Crisis on the Brink (Part 1): A Look at San Antonio’s Homelessness and Addiction Conundrum

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July 25, 2019 - San Antonio

Article By: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor-in-Chief, SA Sentinel

Tourists file in and out of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by  Ken Lund )

Tourists file in and out of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ken Lund)

San Antonio is known across the country for many reasons. The Alamo has always been the focal point of our community and continues to draw thousands of visitors downtown every day of the week. The Spurs are another point of pride in our city and something that we hold as a shining example of who we are. In more recent times, however, the 210 has become known among its own residents for another focal point...increased homelessness and climbing drug abuse.

As noted in a report released by the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH), despite seeing a 6% reduction in overall homelessness, there was an 18% spike over the previous year in the number of homeless families living in the city. The 2019 Point-In-Time report also shows a total of 488 homeless adults with a substance abuse disorder living in the city, as well as 737 homeless adults with a serious mental illness. These numbers are alarming in the fact that San Antonio has been noted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for having more documented drug labs than any other major Texas city. These 58 “clandestine drug labs” found in SA since 2004 mainly focused on producing methamphetamine and some cannabis products. 

Considered one of the country’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Alamo City is recognized for being a high-traffic area for illegal drugs coming from Mexico and moving to other parts of the country. Particularly concerning for law enforcement officials are the types of drugs being abused within our city limits, with methamphetamine and heroin usage continuing to rise. According to the addiction treatment center, The Right Step, imports from Mexico have worsened the situation in recent years and now they report that more than 80,000 SA citizens have used methamphetamine and over 40,000 SA adults have used heroin at some point in their lives. Thursday’s recent seizure of $500,000 worth of methamphetamines at Ingram Park Mall further points to the fact that drug usage and crime remains a steady problem for our city. 

APD Chief Brian Manley. (Photo Credit:  austintexas.gov )

APD Chief Brian Manley. (Photo Credit: austintexas.gov)

Further up the IH-35 corridor, Austin has been receiving most of the attention in regards to homelessness in recent months. On Friday, June 21st,  the City of Austin passed an ordinance legalizing sitting, lying, or panhandling on its public streets. This measure allows people to set up tents and other structures in public areas without being subject to a legal violation or removal by police unless they are deemed to be acting in an aggressive or disturbing manner. Coming on the heels of several well-attended council meetings where residents voiced their opinions on the matter, many in the law enforcement community also raised measured opposition to the new ordinance. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley even implied that it would hinder officers in the performance of their duties, stating, “Now, we’ll have to establish that the underlying conduct posed a danger or hazard to someone before we can take any action.” 

Many Austin residents are worried that the loosening of these laws will lead to so-called tent-cities like those seen in other major metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Los Angeles, the latter of which is facing harsh opposition from a group of citizens looking to “recall” the sitting mayor, Eric Garcetti, who took office in 2001 and is the longest-serving public official in LA. With over 23,000 signatures currently, a Change.org petition started by LA local, Alexandra Datig has garnered attention for drawing attention to the outrage that many Los Angeles citizens are feeling. 

Even celebrity doctor, Dr. Drew Pinsky, has voiced his concerns over the homeless crisis in LA. Comparing LA politicians to Roman Emperor Nero, he proposed that a new wave of plague and disease could spread through the city if the homeless crisis is unattended to. In an interview on the Brian Kilmeade Show on FOX Nation, he described his concerns on the situation in The City of Angels. 

Tent city in Skid Row in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by:  Russ Allison Loar )

Tent city in Skid Row in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by: Russ Allison Loar)

"We have tens and tens of thousands of people living in tents. Horrible conditions. Sanitation. Rats have taken over the city. We're the only city in the country, Los Angeles, without a rodent control program,” said Pinsky. “We have multiple rodent-borne, flea-borne illnesses, plague, typhus. We're gonna have louse-borne illness. If measles breaks into that population, we have tuberculosis exploding. Literally, our politicians are like Nero. It's worse than Nero.”

Although San Antonio is far from the existing crisis in Los Angeles and the rising tent-city crisis in Austin, city officials should recognize that we are facing a major milestone in the matters of homelessness, poverty, and addiction. As such, these issues should be at the forefront of any city agenda - even ahead of bike lanes, scooters, or airport food venues. 

To do our part, we at The Sentinel will be launching an investigative series of articles on SA’s homelessness and drug addiction problem and we hope to provide citizens with a better understanding of the challenges we face in our citywide journey forward. 

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more articles centered around these issues in our “Crisis on the Brink” series.