Dignowity neighbors: Iconic Hays Bridge is a ‘dangerous situation’

“We’re dealing with a population who is extremely sick with mental health and also substance abuse issues.”

SAN ANTONIO — The President of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association said he knows first-hand how quickly an ordinary walk can devolve into danger.

Eduardo Martinez said “Someone chased me, two people, and unfortunately I had to run. I had to run and I had to call the San Antonio Police Department and inform them two people chased me as I was going towards downtown.”   Martinez said he’s grateful he was able to run to safety, but unfortunately police were unable to find his assailants.

Martinez said he knows he is not alone “There are a lot of things that people encounter.  It’s a dangerous situation. It can be,” Martinez said, adding that he hears all kinds of complaints from his neighbors.

“It can be anything from public urination. Public defecation. Public masturbation. Open fires in and around buildings,” Martinez said, adding he feels the danger has increased because the area has gone dark. 

Martinez said “For the past two weeks, the lights have been off on the bridge.  Completely off. Completely dark, so that compounds the safety concerns that people rightfully have and it becomes a very physical impediment.”

Martinez said problems with homeless encampments near the bridge are a long-standing challenge, one that neighbors have tried to address many different ways. “We are engaging with city departments to address the issues: the Department of Human Services, the police department, and public works in order to get a comprehensive solution to what the neighborhood is dealing with on a day in and day out basis.”

Michael owns property near the bridge footing.  He preferred not to provide his full name, but he had no problem detailing his daily challenges.

“The police officers come and somebody is trespassing our property or they damage our property and the officers don’t do anything.  ‘Can I see your ID? I don’t have one, I’m homeless. Oh okay. You’re free to go.'” Michael said.  

He believes there should be a registration system that requires anyone who wants to receive city services to provide verified identification.

“I think it would help.  Would it solve all our problems? No.  Absolutely not but at least if we know who they are, we don’t want sex offenders and traffickers and people that are wanted for crimes sitting here where people walk to go see the beautiful view on the bridge,” Michael said.

Valerie Salas of the Christian Assistance Ministry is often involved in outreach work with people who are homeless near the bridge.

“There’s no easy answers for this.  We’re dealing with a population who is extremely sick with mental health and also substance abuse issues,” Salas said.

Salas said a number of agencies are actively looking for solutions.  “We are working really closely to find placements but there is no easy placement for these individuals.” 

Salas said creative solutions are needed.    “In the meantime, all we do is we meet them where they’re at. That’s what we’re doing out here now,” Salas said.  

Just three weeks ago, District 2 City Council Representative Jalen McKee Rodriguez provided an update on a new development for the area.

April 6, City Council voted to approve more than $2.5 million in funding to begin construction on Dawson Park, near the north east foot of the bridge.  

A release provided by the city says the park will feature two skate parks, a park pavilion and open space for visitors to enjoy both a view of the bridge and the cityscape.

Martinez said neighbors understand the fear of a new investment coming to an area with a pernicious problem.

“The irony is not lost on me. That’s the bigger concern, that we might put money into this park and then what’s happening at the footing of the bridge is going to become an extension and we’re going to have what’s going on at the foot of the bridge in this brand new park that we’re supposed to have,” Martinez said.

Today McKee Rodriguez provided the following statement about the challenges:  

“We have been working with the Street Outreach Team, neighborhood leaders, and city leadership to identify short and long-term solutions. This has been one of the greatest challenges this year, but we’re committed to finding a set of innovative, compassionate solutions – such as permanent supportive housing, low barrier shelter, and routine encampment cleanups. The issue is complex and frustrating for all involved.”

For anyone interested in following the progress of these projects, the neighborhood association meets on the third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Ella Austin Community Center at 1023 N. Pine and they have a Facebook page.

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