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City to lease downtown hotel for homeless shelter

San Antonio City Council agreed to pay $3 million to open the new shelter at the Days Inn on East Houston Street.

SAN ANTONIO — Beginning July 1, people experiencing homelessness can check in to the Days Inn on East Houston Street in downtown San Antonio until they find a permanent living solution. 

The city council agreed to a year-long, $1.17 million lease for 45 rooms on Thursday. The city will pay SAMMinistries another $1.73 million to run the facility.

The money comes from federal coronavirus relief funds. 

"We take care of the most basic need: shelter," SAMMinistries CEO Nikisha Baker said. "That's the first step in getting folks' lives turned around." 

Street outreach teams of trained social workers will help select the most vulnerable members of the homeless population and invite them to stay at the shelter. The ministry aims to find permanent housing for each tenant within four months of their arrival. 

SAM will not kick tenants out of their rooms if they've not found a permanent living space within 120 days. 

Some guests will go to rehab facilities. The nonprofit will help other guests clear hurdles to permanent government housing or even private living that require tenants to have an ID or an existing address. 

SAM workers will work in the hotel to meet each guest's needs, especially regarding paperwork. The ministry plans to provide counselling and mental health services on-site. 

Unlike traditional homeless shelters, unmarried couples will be allowed to room together.

"This project, I'm frightened to say, is probably just a drop in the bucket," Baker said. "But I hope that the pilot proves that the model can work and we as a community can wrap our arms around this method." 

There will be no curfew at the hotel. Tenants can come and go as they please. 

Alcohol and drugs are not allowed on-site, but SAM will not penalize guests for using illicit substances elsewhere. The people who stay in the shelter will not be required to participate in social services to remain in the hotel. 

A committee chose the site, in part, because it has a single entry point that's easier for on-site security to monitor. San Antonio Police will also pay special attention to the area, though Baker contends the entire community is safer when people experiencing homelessness are off the streets. 

Baker says the initiative aims to find permanent housing for 250 people currently sleeping on the streets. She expects a 40% success rate. 

She added a number of other hotels have already reached out about participating in the program.