City struggles to keep homeless outreach team staffed

San Antonio – Tasked with helping to get the city’s chronically homeless population off the streets, the city’s homeless outreach team struggles to find and keep outreach workers on the job.

As of 2021, following smaller-scale pilot schemes, the outreach team has 11 positions – one for each City Council district and another for the city centre. But in just over a year and a half since the first team members debuted, City said it had had five resignations from the team.

After the District 3 outreach worker leaves next week, the city said it will have three contiguous council districts with vacancies, as well as the downtown position, which it has never been in. able to provide.

“Knowing this field and knowing that it is a new program, I am not concerned at the moment. We are listening to this team about their challenges. They all really care about the job, very deeply, and so that’s a good thing,” said Patrick Steck, deputy director of the Department of Social Services who oversees the program.

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Steck said the city had extended job offers for the three vacancies in the council district, but in a Tuesday morning interview with KSAT, the city was still waiting to see who would accept.

He attributes the staffing problems to a variety of factors. Outreach positions are divided into two levels – clinicians and specialists. Specialists require a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience, Steck said, while clinician positions require higher-level qualifications, such as a master’s degree in social work or a licensed professional counseling degree.

The job market is tight for candidates who qualify for clinician positions, he said.

“We advertise the job for months and get two applicants, which is very unusual,” Steck said.

Eventually, he said, the city started looking for more specialists instead. Rather than six clinicians and five specialist positions, he said they have gone to seven specialists and four clinicians.

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One of these clinician positions is in District 4 on the South Side and is currently vacant.

Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, who represents the council’s district, said she had shared District 3’s outreach worker since the one from her district left in late March – a situation she called “totally unfair”.

“We have the two biggest areas. We should actually have two each, in my opinion,” she told KSAT.

Rocha Garcia and other board members voiced their concerns during the board’s initial budget discussion.

“I will lose my outreach coordinator. So in the southern sector, at the end of this month, we will not have a homeless help connection because he has found a better paying job, ”said District 3 Councilor Phyllis Viagran. “This is unacceptable.”

Steck said the impending departure of the District 3 outreach worker was preceded last month by the District 5 team member. The resulting vacancies in Districts 3, 4 and 5, a he said, were a “bad coincidence”.

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However, he said the city has also contracted with SAMM Ministries to do outreach work, and they work primarily south of downtown.

The city is also contracting with Centro San Antonio to perform downtown outreach work, although the city still hopes to eventually fill this position.

The current salary range for workers is $45,281 to $67,922 for specialists and $54,790 to $82,185 for clinicians, depending on the city.

The current budget proposal calls for wage increases between 7 and 12 percent for nearly all of the city’s civilian employees, though it’s unclear exactly where outreach workers would fall within that range.

Regardless of their title or salary, it’s hard work.

“There is a lot of stress at work. You see a lot of people who have experienced significant trauma in their lives. So a treatment that takes a very unique individual and unique perspective,” Steck said.

Despite problems hiring and retaining staff, Steck believes the team succeeded and gave the city “good insight” into the needs of the homeless homeless population.

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“Being able to see almost in real time what’s happening on the street and how we can adapt and respond to it – that’s a key value for us,” Steck said.

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