homeless moms jeered: TX neighbors oppose SAMM center site FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 20 Jun 1998 08:53:36 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  San Antonio {TX] Express-News June 17, 1998


     By David Anthony Richelieu - Express-News Staff Writer

Hundreds of North Side residents took an emotional roller-coaster ride
Tuesday evening as they debated the merits of a proposed homeless family
facility in their neighborhood.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 400 jammed the cafeteria of Mount
Sacred Heart girls' school to tell officials how they thought they, their
homes and their Blanco Road neighborhood would be affected by the proposed
family rehabilitation center.

Schools, property values and other familiar issues surfaced.

There also were intense and pointed remarks from those supporting the
40-family center proposed by the San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries

The meeting, called by District 9 City Councilman Tim Bannwolf, drew
residents of San Antonio
who live around the school and adjacent Mount Sacred Heart Convent, as well
as suburban Castle Hills neighbors who live across Blanco Road from the

"I can't believe people are saying they support the work of the SAMM center
but want to discriminate against people on the basis of economics," said
40-year-old Joe Gibbons, who pleaded with a jeering and boisterous segment
of the crowd to "just give these families a chance."

Gibbons said he moved his wife and four children into the neighborhood four
years ago, holds two jobs and does extensive community work with his own

He said, "All people need is hope. Just hope. And that is what the SAMM
program gives them.

"Not everyone at the SAMM center is bad. Many are just people who need a
chance -- they want to make it. I know, I was helped by SAMM and got the
opportunity to better myself."

He later went home, changed clothes and brought back a photo of his family
to prove "just how silly it is for people to discriminate -- not on the
basis of race or color -- but on economics."

Gibbons gave one of the evening's strongest unsolicited endorsements of the
SAMM program.

But two women enrolled in the agency's program currently located downtown
who were brought to the meeting by SAMM officials to explain how the
program is helping them and their families were verbally attacked by Castle
Hills resident Bob Anderson.

"'We're not against the homeless," he said, repeating the phrase used by
virtually everyone opposed to the SAMM project. "But no one gave us
anything. We worked to get what we have."

He also criticized the presentation by SAMM officials, who tried to outline
security, screening and operational policies that would maintain a family
atmosphere if the center moves to the 20-acre site.

"Where are the professionals running this program? Why did they have a
couple of crying women stand up to explain what they are doing?" he asked,
referring to two working mothers, one a nurse at the State School and the
other a day-care center worker.

"And where are they getting the $5 million to buy this property? If they
have that kind of money, they have all sorts of alternatives," he added to
cheers of approval from the crowd.

Words like "crime" and "fear" and "security" punctuated the barrage of
criticism and accompanying applause from a series of neighborhood opponents
speaking against the proposal.

Many said they have lived in the neighborhood for decades and criticized
conditions at a nearby apartment complex that allows low-income residents.

After about 30 minutes, the crowd began shouting and jeering at random as
neighborhood residents who do volunteer work at the SAMM facility tried to

Bannwolf was forced to remind the crowd that free speech is a sacred right
in America "and we should show courtesy to one another."

He was applauded.

"These are families, not single men who walk in off the streets," one woman

"But how will they keep those other people out when they come out here and
try to get in?" someone shouted, triggering a barrage of similar comments.

"Once they get it rezoned, how do we know what will happen and how many
more buildings will they add?" another asked.

"We are here to get your questions," Bannwolf said, explaining that answers
would be given in a follow-up meeting in three weeks.

After about two hours of comments about everything from real estate
contract policies to an explanation from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus about the financial difficulties prompting them to sell the site,
emotions in the sweltering cafeteria finally cooled off.

Walking outside into the 90-degree heat was like stepping into a blast of
arctic air.

Said one man: "Doesn't this feel great? Look at this. Wouldn't this make a
great city park for our neighborhood?"

That was about the only thing said all evening that didn't draw jeers from
one side or the other.


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