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Homeless camp highlights citywide panhandling problem

Homeless camp highlights citywide panhandling problem

SAN ANTONIO – Police cleaned out a homeless camp near a gated community on the city’s north side, highlighting a growing problem in our city.

Neighbors at Northwest Military and Wurzbach say panhandlers are there every day. Many of them were actually living in drainage ditches just a few steps away.

We spotted a panhandler at the affluent intersection. The second he spotted us, he took off on foot. We followed him all the way to where he parked his car.

“I just don’t want my kids to see me out here like this,” the panhandler said as he drove way.

The interaction was no surprise to the San Antonio Police Department’s neighborhood SAFFE officers.

“Some of [the panhandlers] come from other areas of town to hit the nice corners,” Ofc. Steve Beilstein says.

But he says a lot of panhandlers actually set up shop. Officers just cleaned out a drainage ditch on Wurzbach where there was a homeless camp right alongside a gated community.

“Sleeping bags, their pillows, evidence of drug use,” Ofc. Beilstein describes the camp.

The situation got the attention of the area’s councilman, Manny Pelaez.

“This has become a critical issue,” the District 8 councilman says.

He says not a day goes by without homeowners reporting homeless camps somewhere in the city.

“You’re going to see, if you look close enough, hypodermic needles and used pipes from which people are smoking drugs. You’re going to see a lot of sadness,” Councilman Pelaez says.

Huge teams from the city, SAPD and shelters clean out the camps as quickly as they can. The city says teams have cleaned out more than 120 camps in the past year.

“The point of that is to get them off the street and get them help,” Ofc. Beilstein explains.

But with panhandling and homeless camps so closely tied, the councilman says we all bear responsibility.

“People don’t panhandle where people don’t give money, right?” Councilman Pelaez says. “If you really want to help homeless people and homeless families, the way to do it is to give to our agencies here in town dedicated to providing services.”

If you spot a homeless camp in your area, call your neighborhood SAFFE office and your council office with specific details. Click here for how to find your SAFFE office. Click here for how to find your council office.

By EMILY BAUCUM

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