City delays consideration of 'drop-in' facility for homeless in Corpus Christi

Kathryn Cargo
Corpus Christi Caller Times

The City Council will wait a little longer to consider providing a facility for transient people to get out of the weather.

A proposed "drop-in" homeless shelter was pulled off the council's Nov. 3 agenda. Council members will hold off on considering it until they have more information.

The city has eight homeless shelter organizations. But many homeless people stick to the streets. They may have pets. They may have drug or mental illness problems.

They still need a place to go, City Manager Peter Zanoni said. 

The city of Corpus Christi is looking at modeling the "drop in" facility in San Antonio called Haven for Hope.

The item was pulled from the agenda because council members didn't have enough information on the concept. 

"We don't think this is going to have a draw on attracting homeless people from across the state or country, and they certainly won't be coming down here because of a bare bones shelter building outside," Zanoni said. 

The city manager plans to use more than $2 million in federal grant money awarded to the city to help the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, for a drop-in shelter. The facility would be a place transient people could go to get out of the weather during the day or night with a secure sleeping area and restrooms.

"Today, in lieu of it, the alternative is you just lay in the street on the sidewalk and doorways of closed businesses or even open businesses," Zanoni said. "That's one of the immediate goals of building it -- is that it will get people out of the right of way. And get them off sidewalks, get them out of doorways of people's private businesses, whether they're open or closed."

City manager Peter Zanoni speaks before touring Padre Island projects, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. New projects include a grocery store, housing development and restaurants.

There were an estimated 850 homeless people in the city of Corpus Christi in January, according to preliminary results of the Point-in-Time count. 

That was more than double 2019's count, which showed there were 380 homeless people in the city. And many of these people live on the street and don't stay in shelters. 

What will it be like?

Zanoni said shelter would help eliminate pop-up tents and other temporary shelters on the street. And it would be easier for service providers to offer help to the homeless, who are normally on the street. 

"Today, they have to go everywhere and look in doorways, look in alleys and on sidewalks," Zanoni said. 

The city would use the funds to build the facility, but would not own or operate it. The city plans to partner with Corpus Christi Mission 911, which would run the shelter. The federal funding would also cover one to two years of operating costs for the nonprofit. 

"We've been helping people for 20 years," said Tony Reyes, director and founder of Mission 911.  "So we more or less understand the struggles of poverty, and people that are struggling with homelessness."

The city would provide funding for a security staff at the facility as well. 

The city hasn't chosen a site yet. Zanoni is leaning toward building the shelter somewhere in the Uptown area near City Hall, where there are several homeless service providers. The shelter would consist of a shade structure and restrooms, possibly including a shower.

The shade structure would be made of metal and provide shelter over a concrete foundation roughly the size of two basketball courts to accommodate 75 to 100 people. 

This is a "drop in" homeless shelter in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Reyes said the shelter would be a "gathering" place for the homeless. He agreed with Zanoni that it would help service providers more quickly locate those who need assistance. 

"We're going to have to work together with other organizations," he said. "We have some great homeless organizations here in Corpus Christi, ... and we're going to have to use their strengths to help these individuals."

Reyes said he's forming guidelines for the shelter with city staff. 

"We don't want these tents, or this drop off zone to be like San Francisco or an Austin,  where people just stay there, and they're stagnant, and nothing happens," he said. Other places, where you don't have rules, you don't have guidelines, and it becomes chaos."

In June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the city $1.86 million in federal coronavirus grant money to help homeless populations prepare for and recover from the pandemic.

The item is expected to go to City Council mid-January, after the new council is sworn in, to establish the budget for the project. If approved, the city plans to start building the shelter in the following months with anticipated completion before summer 2021. 

"When we do take this to Council for award, it's really going to be linked to a contract with a service provider," Zanoni said. 

People in Blucher Park at South Tancahua Street and Kinney Street.

Current efforts 

Zanoni also wants to use part of the funds to improve facilities at Corpus Christi shelters. 

Shelters need many renovations to have the proper amenities to stay clean and practice social distancing. Mother Teresa, a day homeless shelter, had people eating outside on the sidewalk in early summer because there wasn't enough room inside to practice social distancing, Zanoni said. 

Previously this year, the city received about $800,000 and another $1.6 million from the federal government to help homeless communities or to prevent homelessness.

The city has spent these funds to help with utility, mortgage or rent payments as well as providing supplies to shelters. Using the funds is a slow process, Zanoni said. 

The Good Samaritan Rescue Mission is the city's largest homeless shelter with 226 beds. Its South Alameda Street facility is made up of nearly century-old buildings that are falling apart. 

Kathryn Cargo follows business openings and developments while reporting on impacts of the city government’s decisions.See our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe.

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Clothing is left outside the old Lamar Elementary School. The Good Samaritan Rescue Mission has plans to turn the it into a homeless shelter. The planning commission denied the zoning request and the City Council will decide the future of the shelter.