For the first few days of my journey, I stayed at an outdoor shelter called Prospects Courtyard (PCY) at Haven for Hope that has less rules than the indoor campus. (It has since moved fully indoors during the evenings for PCY guests.) At the time it was the only place one could find quick shelter if indoors shelters were full. The courtyard provides three meals a day, a mattress, showers, support, and blankets for guests.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. One of the first things that shocked me at the start of this journey was the misconceptions I had about homelessness and the diversity that exists in the community. Walking into the courtyard as a new person was like walking into a school cafeteria as a new student and not knowing where to sit because there are many social circles and groups.
For the first few nights I slept near a man who would wear a suit and go to work each morning. He was well spoken and had started a new job. After the original post below, I learned later that he was getting back on his feet and needed a place to sleep, shower, and wash clothes so he could gain enough money to pay off bills and find better options.
According to “Policy Advice” and other organizations the state of homelessness in America looked like this in or around 2021:
- The number of homeless in the US is estimated at 552,830. (White House)
- Approximately 17 people per 10,000 experience homelessness each day. (HUD)
- 20% of homeless individuals are, in fact, kids. (HUD)
- 42% of street children identify as LGBT. (Street Kids)
- 39.8% of homeless persons are African-Americans. (Forbes)
- 13% of homeless persons are of Hispanic origin. (Forbes)
- 48% of homeless persons in the US are white. (Forbes)
- 2.8% of homeless persons are Native American. (Forbes)
- 61% of homeless persons are men and boys. (HUD)
- 11% of homeless persons are veterans & 8% of homeless veterans are women. Stats suggest that 40% of single homeless men are veterans (Policy Advice & PBS)
- 38.6% of sheltered homeless individuals are disabled. (National Law Center on Homelessness)
- 25% of homeless people have mental illnesses. (PBS)
- 38% of homeless people are alcohol dependent, and 26% are dependent on other harmful chemicals. (The National Coalition for the Homeless)
- 58% of homeless individuals in Texas, California, and Florida entail youth, homelessness statistics from 2018 reveal. (AHAR)
- Over 65% of the homeless population in America is in homeless shelters. (White House)
- 58,000 students identified as homeless in 2013. (AC Online)
- Only 30% of affordable housing is available to people with extremely low income. 25% of renters have extremely low income that can easily lead to homelessness. (National Law Center on Homelessness)
- 23% of the US homeless population is chronically homeless. (PBS)
- Every year, roughly 13,000 homeless people die in the US. (National Homeless)
The stats can vary year by year and change based on the current pandemic and economy, but the above stats hold weight and reveal the diversity that exists in the community. Yes, a good percentage of the unhoused deal with mental illness and drugs but its not the majority of people experiencing homelessness. Finding a solution takes a holistic approach.
Therefore, we need to drop our stereotypes that form bad policies, ineffective volunteering, and privileged charity. When this kind of misunderstanding takes place it often leads to more trauma and harm in our community. We must first see a common humanity in all people experiencing homelessness, realize the facts, and adjust our actions appropriately, and with compassion.
Below is my original post from 2012:
“SUITS” 2012 Original Post:
There is a “safe” outdoor area I stay most nights where many homeless people choose to find haven to sleep and rest. When I started to stay there I was worried that I would stand out and look out of place. (Are my clothes too nice? Is my hair too short? etc…) However I was surprised to find out that fitting or blending in would be quite easy.
I really did not have to worry about looking homeless.
Come to find out there are people with nicer packs and sleeping bags than me. There are people wearing nicer clothes than I have on. There are men cleanly shaven and speak without stuttering. There are women with styled hair and designer jeans.
They are all not drunks, addicts, beggars, prostitutes, and criminals. What were these people doing here?
A few night ago I was entering the homeless area and was walking behind a man wearing a suit, wool overcoat, dress shoes, and jewelry who was talking on his smartphone all “business like.” I assumed he was a volunteer or visitor saying hello or helping a friend in need. He was dressed way to nice to be sleeping outdoors. “He has to be visiting” I assured myself.
He was not. He was staying the night just like me.
Maybe he is on a Lenten fast and writing a blog as well…but I imagine that’s not the case.
Soon after he arrived…he took off his jacket, shoes, and tie right after grabbing his sleeping mat. Then not five minutes later he quickly went right to sleep near a man with a long beard, broken shoes, and dirty clothes. I wanted to capture the image…but I don’t have a camera. Just a basic go phone.
It appears this man has a job and one that requires a suit and smartphone. (Many people who work and live here wear construction clothes, factory uniforms, and have a basic cell phone to use). But I was surprised to see the suit…I was still in my stereotype.
Homelessness can happen to anyone. It’s not just for people who refuse work or desire a life out on the streets. Especially in this economy people who are not typically stereotyped as “homeless” have found themselves living on the streets or shelters as a last resort. They are living day by day to make ends meet while still retaining some type of job.
But one that requires a suit? I did not have that in my packing list.
10 Years ago, I decided to live on the streets of San Antonio during the Lenten season to learn about homelessness in San Antonio and how I could better understand the community through acts of solidarity. I was a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, and at the time, the congregation was grappling how to serve the unhoused population at their newly opened TriPoint Community Center. I had very little understanding of the realities of homelessness and wanted to better understand the community before I formed any opinion of services. Little did I know how formative the 40+ days would end up being for me!
The journey was not perfect but It was a life changing event that unexpectedly changed the direction of my life, ministry, and calling. I have the privilege of now looking back on those days, the relationships formed, and lessons learned from a much different perspective. I am going to post each daily “40 Days of Haven” blog post during lent unedited with only some slight name changes for clarity and then post a current reflection. (In 2012, I was still protecting some identities to respect their own story.)
I hope you enjoy, read with lots of grace and forgiveness, and reflect with me during this Lenten Season of 2022. -gavin