TNOYS member South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH) is leading the charge to ensure everyone has a place to call home. SARAH began as a group of nonprofit leaders to serve as the Continuum of Care (CoC) Board of Directors. Since 2015, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designated them as the lead Continuum of Care agency for San Antonio and Bexar County, SARAH has grown from a three-person to sixteen-person organization, with plans for further expansion. Their dedication has led to successful outcomes for youth, including reducing the average number of days youth spend on the waitlist for housing by more than half (compared to the general population)!
In September of 2019, the organization was awarded a $6.88 million grant as part of HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), enabling SARAH to create and implement a coordinated community plan (CCP) that aims to prevent and end youth homelessness in San Antonio and Bexar County. Through this grant, SARAH highlights WE SAY, or We Empower San Antonio Youth, as their call to action because they believe no youth homelessness policy should be decided without the full and direct participation of YYA with lived homelessness experiences. Since the beginning of 2020, SARAH has had 228 referrals to YHDP projects, with 89 successful project enrollments so far!
TNOYS is proud to spotlight SARAH as a member and uplift the amazing work of this organization. Billy Mahone III, SARAH’s Director of Community Engagement, was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the work their organization is doing below:
How does SARAH work to ensure everyone has a place to call home?
SARAH secures and distributes funding for direct service providers in the housing and homeless community and provides guidance to strengthen policies and programs. We work towards our mission by collaborating with, listening to, and collecting data from our partner network. We also manage Homelink, our local Coordinated Entry System, a uniform, community-wide approach to connect persons who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness to housing resources.
I understand you work toward your mission by strengthening your coordinated system of care, promoting sustainable strategies, and focusing on measurable impact. Could you tell me more about your work in these areas?
Strengthening our Coordinated System of Care: We actively work with our partners to identify gaps and areas needing improvement in our current homeless response system and create policies and strategies to address them.
Promoting Sustainable Strategies: There are no quick fixes to solve homelessness and housing instability. Knowing this, we are intentional about looking to the future with our planning and decision-making. It is imperative that the policies and programs we put in place can be successful now and sustainable in the long term.
Focusing on Measurable Impact: We believe to improve something, you must first be able to measure it. SARAH uses the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) method of goal-setting to ensure we can measure our work and track the results. SARAH employs a Director of Research & Evaluation, Data Scientist, and GIS Analyst who all help us in this area. We look for ways to expand the quantity and quality of information we present in each year’s Point-In-Time Count Report. In addition, we seek opportunities to measure and track our impact on a more consistent basis throughout the year, as evidenced by our work with the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services to develop a dashboard for the Strategic Plan to End Homelessness.
How does SARAH work with youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability?
SARAH works closely with the Youth Action Board of San Antonio (YABSA), whose mission is to expand the youth voice and implement youth equity in our community’s homelessness response system. The YABSA advised and informed on the YHDP planning process to represent the youth homeless community. YABSA is composed of at least 2/3 active members with lived experience of homelessness and have a seat on the CoC Board. SARAH is also actively involved with YHDP partners to ensure their programs successfully prevent and reduce the number of youth experiencing homelessness in our community. This includes SAMMinistries, which plans to launch its Young Adult Stability & Support (YASS) center in downtown San Antonio in December. Two of our other YHDP partners, Thrive Youth Center and Roy Maas Youth Alternatives (RMYA), focus exclusively on serving YYA experiencing homelessness. SARAH has had long-standing relationships with both organizations.
What are some of the challenges youth experiencing homelessness in Bexar County and San Antonio face that SARAH is helping to address?
One challenge in addressing youth homelessness is simply identifying all unaccompanied YYA experiencing homelessness in San Antonio/Bexar County. We know that we cannot end what we cannot see and understand, but unfortunately, some cases of homelessness among YYA go unreported. SARAH is helping to address this issue through enhanced coordination among partners serving YYA experiencing homelessness and advocating for higher outreach capacity.
Another challenge is the need to develop tailored solutions specific to YYA. Traditional adult-focused access points, emergency shelters, housing, etc. are not always appropriate for YYA, leading to lower usage and success rates. SARAH works with the YABSA and YHDP partners to quickly connect YYA experiencing homelessness to individualized client-driven permanent housing and supportive services with no preconditions.
How has your approach changed since the pandemic?
Strengthening partner relationships, fostering opportunities for collaboration, and honing communication channels became of the utmost importance for continued progress during the pandemic. In addition, we embraced technology like video conferencing software to frequently (and safely) connect with partner agencies and stakeholders.
What are SARAH’s plans for the future?
One of our priorities for 2022 is to hold a safe, effective Point-In-Time Count event, after taking a year off for the volunteer unsheltered count due to the pandemic. We also plan on launching a new prioritization tool and workflow for housing placements using equity and vulnerability measures through a partnership with the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities. Another priority for next year is to solidify a community dashboard and publish updates quarterly to share important data points with community stakeholders that will help us measure our progress throughout the year.
Longer-term, we have aligned our priorities with the recommendations laid out in the Strategic Plan to Respond to Homelessness in San Antonio and Bexar County, a five-year guide with actionable steps for our community to reduce homelessness in San Antonio.