SAN ANTONIO — The video is grainy but the fear is clear.
For months, people who live adjacent to Polaris Street south of East Houston Street have been installing security cameras and standing guard to fight what they call an absolutely unacceptable environment of crimes being committed in plain sight.
Three-year resident Elizabeth West has several surveillance cameras guarding her house and yard. West said there are about 15 cameras in the adjacent four block area.
She said just this week, one of her cameras recorded her confronting three men stopped in the street outside her bedroom window. West said they were conducting drug transactions and using drugs with impunity.
“He kept trying to say it's a public street and it's been going on for years and we're not going to stop it. I told him ‘yes we will.’ He said he would burn my house down. He would burn me and burn my house down, so he clearly threatened me,” West said.
West said she and everyone else in the neighborhood have front row seats to a constant barrage of illegal behavior.
“There's constant fighting. Yelling. Drugs. Prostitution. Shootings. So it's like a war zone.” West said.
West said she and her neighbors are on a shared video feed, so they are all monitoring what they see.
When an angry regular on the block showed up with a 2 x 4 board recently and knocked down or destroyed several cameras, West said the neighbors fought back by promptly replacing the unblinking watchdogs.
“Sometimes you have prostitution and when you see them exchanging things, they're usually exchanging drugs and money. And after they've done that, we see them light up their crack pipes and smoke their crack on the side of the sidewalk and on our retaining walls,” West said.
“You don't see this in Alamo Heights, but it's just expected to be that way here. They think they have the right to be here and do their dirty deeds in front of our homes,” West said.
Neighbors frequently take shifts, West said, so that someone is almost always available to call police when things really get out of hand.
“There's been two shootings across the street at what we believe to be a drug house. Any one of those bullets could come through my window and hit my mother or me! We're right here, exposed,” West said.
West said she and others don’t understand why the lawlessness has been allowed to consume the streets as they have worked with specialty units at the San Antonio Police Department and with the District 2 Council Office.
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez attended the grand opening of a new resource hub just blocks away Thursday morning. The center is a new method of ministry at the Jacobs Chapel United Methodist Church at 406 South Polaris.
Starting in October, every first and third Thursday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., people experiencing homelessness or needing assistance can visit with representatives from several service agencies.
The contributing partners are: the city’s Department of Human Services, University Health, Corazon Ministries, Yanawana Herbolarios, House of Respect Barber Shop, National Veterans Outreach American GI Forum and Alamo City Barber College.
Rev. Robert Glenn of Jacobs Chapel told those who attended an opening ceremony, “I don’t mind telling you that this started slow. One thing that I've learned about those we are reaching out to help is that they first have to have that feeling that [they] are loved by the ones who want to help them,” Glenn said, adding, “Since we have been a part of this ministry, the love has always been there.”
Glenn said God has blessed his congregation since they began planning this effort. “We're a church that is 127 years old this coming November, and there has been nothing but great joy that we can be a part of a ministry such as this,” Glenn said.
McKee-Rodriguez told the crowd the new program and collaboration are pure excitement.
“True compassion is in service and it is in full display here at this mobile hub,” McKee-Rodriguez said, adding, “My hope is that there is someone out there who finds inspiration and says 'I want to start this too, I want to do something similar.'"
Addressing the issue of crime in the nearby area, McKee-Rodriguez said “Houselessness is an extremely complex issue and the people of this neighborhood are very used to the negative effects of it, but I think what's clear is you can't arrest the problem away,” adding he believes collaboration is the key. “That's going to mean all of us coming together and creating resource hubs like this where folk are more comfortable to get resources and get assistance and help and really address the root cause of houselessness.”
Jacobs Chapel has an active Facebook presence.
The phone number for the church is 210-223-1341.