The night of the storm in the Spring of 2012 was the first night that Willie (who I first write about meeting here) invited me into his home during the lenten journey. It was a night to remember! I also remember the next night (and blog post) where I could not find my friend. It was a rollercoaster two days.
After knowing him more, I learned that he normally wouldn’t have shown someone his secret spot off the St. Mary’s drag. However, he really cared about my safety and our friendship. He truly wanted to “show me the ropes.” That night, Willie was able to drop the fear of the stranger and invite me into his home. He ignored the risk of someone taking advantage on his space and was determined to care more about the safety of another person. He understood that true acts of solidarity transform relationships into real friendships.
I always remind people that Willie first invited me into his home way before I ever invited him into my home. He was the first initiator of compassion. He changed my life. I still have a lot to learn about that type of empathy and compassion but Willie still is a good guide. I can feel his Spirit each day we do the hard work in the community.
Just last night, I had the opportunity to go back out on the streets of San Antonio (during Holy Week 2022) and sleep outside with my friend Josh (who was also part of my 2012 journey and also a loyal guide). You can learn about him here and see some photos of us from 2012. Last night, we had the ability to catch up and share stories while we looked for spot to sleep in downtown. More importantly he reminded me of the many gaps in our system that keep people like Josh in the cycle of homelessness. (I will write more on that after Holy Week. For now, I will continue sleeping outside for Holy Week 2022 and reconnect with the community that formed me in 2012.)
For now, enjoy these two blogs from 2012 and remember that Willie was the one who took the risk of inviting me inside his home and being vulnerable with a friend in need.
Storm: Posted on
Last Night San Antonio finally got a lot of rain…and wind…and hail. Good news for the Edwards Aquifer bad news for people like me living on the streets.
This thunderstorm was one of the first Spring fronts with substantial rain, hail, and tornadoes of the season. The squall line went from South Texas all the way up past Oklahoma. It carried some real punch that lasted most of the night.
After meeting Edison Young Life students for dinner, I had a choice to go to the outdoor shelter (where they would make us go inside where it would be safe) or find some other covering with men who live on the streets.
I went back and forth in making my decision, but I eventually chose the latter. This is the part of the blog where my mom will now call me…so pray…not for my mom…but for me…I might have better luck with the tornado!) I decided I would endure the storm with William and Company at the place he finds “shelter” most nights.
Come what may.
William lives in an abandoned shack near the 281 corridor. It used to be attached to a nightclub but the club burned down years ago. Only a tin roof shack remains on the unkept property. The grass around the barn is tall. The overgrown weeds provide nice privacy.
I arrived around 9pm…right before the first wave hit. Once I laid my mat down for the night, William wanted to go over to a music shop and listen to a women read Spanish poems with a jazz band. It was random…but he was the host…so I agreed and went along. The lady was good. I did not understand what she was saying…but she had a good cadence and presence. I guess that counts for something. There was also a man who looked like “Kip” in Napoleon Dynamite who read poems in English. The style was similar to how Mike Myers read poems in So I Married An Ax Murderer… but slightly more awkward and strange. He was okay…but it was starting to rain…so I convinced William to leave after “Kip” was done reciting his poem about “the orange haze inside [his] human subconsciousness.” So we left Kip at the club before the storm could trap us inside his tangerine filled brain.
When we returned back to his shack, he said, “my place is your place…this house has an open door for you my friend…my best friend. We will get through this storm together…come hell or high water, Jellybean.” (It’s funny. When he doesn’t call me by name, William either calls me Cowboy, Homeboy, or Jellybean in no particular order…I like that.)
After he said that to me, I realized that he was inviting me into his home to visit…just like my head pastor invites me over to his home for a Christmas Party or family dinner. This was his home…not just a place to ride out the storm. It started to pour down rain.
I started to ask myself…
Would I invite this man to sleep at my house for the night?
Would I open my door and allow someone to sleep on my floor during a dangerous storm?
Would I even allow someone to sleep in my back storage shed next to my lawnmower and broom during a storm?
I don’t really know what I would do…
Relatively speaking, his home is dry. It has some major leaks in one corner but only small leaks in the area where William sleeps on the floor. After observing where the drops leak through the tin roof, you can easily position yourself to sleep without getting too wet between the trash and wet spots. That process took about an hour. Trial and error is the best approach.
Once I found my position it only took about 10 more minutes to realize I was getting drops on my bag. The rain started to pick up and other leaks were revealed. After one slight adjustment, I was all set. Then the rain stopped.
William decided to light a fire to keep warm. This seemed strange but it was his place so I just watched him work. He got the wet wood lit after some time and had a good fire going. I was impressed by his Boy Scout skills.
I thought the storm was over…then my sister called from Bulverde to check if I was okay and she said the worst part of the storm was yet to come. I was thirsty and hungry so I ran to the gas station to buy a drink and grab a fried burrito called a “tornado.” I thought the name was ironic. (They are 2 for $2 at Valero…not a bad deal.) I knocked on some wood…or what I thought was wood. Once I returned, stage 2 of the storm was arriving. According to William’s hand radio, San Antonio was now in a Tornado Warning. The weather alert said a few tornadoes touched down near Divine and Castroville, TX. The storm was headed toward San Antonio.
By this time the wind picked back up and William’s fire grew pretty big…I was nervous. He didn’t seem to mind. But after some discussion about the possibility of our things catching fire, we found some creative ways to put out the fire for good. He called me the “Fire Marshall.”
Some time passed and the rain started to come down hard again. Lightning was everywhere. I wondered about the tin roof and if it was capable of attracting electricity. (I should have paid attention in my science class…) I got back in my sleeping bag and just listened to the storm. It was loud, bright, windy, and wet. William was listening to the static filled radio. Mist was coming in the door. He began to talk to himself (or me) out loud…I couldn’t tell…it was that loud inside the barn. The cold air started to creep in…so I got deeper into my sleeping bag and covered the end (by my feet) with a large plastic bag.
Hail started to fall on the tin roof. The storm was getting intense. I was actually getting nervous….but I tried to sleep. At some part of the night the wind was so bad it pulled up a corner of the tin roof and allowed the metal to slam back and forth on the ceiling. Now it was really loud…kinda like being on a train…but with a lot more leaks in the roof.
I wondered to myself what I would do if I heard the sound of a tornado. (Which I’ve always heard sounds like a train…) Where would I run to? How could I get to a safe place without getting hit by lighting or hurt by the severe conditions. It’s a helpless feeling. All you can do is hope for the best.
Bam! A limb hit the roof. I flew out of my bed. I could not sleep anymore. So I decided to break my rule and take some pictures. William gave me permission. Water started flooding into the barn, but not enough to reach our bags. The storm was shaking the walls of the barn so much I began judging if the old barn would hold up to the wind. I assumed it had made it through similar storms…we would be okay. I guess…
We just buckled down, got back into our bags and waited…
After the worst part of the storm had passed, I was able to get some rest and fall asleep to the rain. I had a few crazy dreams about the storm…but all things considered, I was glad I was able to get some rest and feel safe again.
The next morning I woke up to the sun shining through the cracks of the barn, William listening to the radio and smoking a Marlboro Red cigarette that a friend gave him at the music shop. It was good to see him dry, happy, and awake for a brand new day.
We were okay. For now…
My mom will call…but at least we made it past the storm.
(When I arrived at work I learned that one of our custodian’s’ sister’s home was destroyed by one of the tornadoes. It made me pause and think about the night. It was really a bad storm. We were lucky… Others were not. I believe the family is okay…but their home is gone. Days like this make you really appreciate your home…and the people who live inside the walls.
Alone: Posted on
Last night I went back to sleep at William’s place. The barn was a lot more calm and collected now that the weather had improved. The room was much dryer than the night before. Water that fell on my sleeping bag and blanket seemed to dry fairly well in 24 hours.
Hours before returning back to his barn, I was invited by head deacon, Tom Hill, to share part of my homeless journey with my church’s deacon council. It was an interesting presentation. I think my Pastor was nervous about what I was going to say…and how it would be received and interpreted by the group of lay leaders. Deacons are a funny breed. Kind of like pastors…
Some of the deacons did not know about my journey until last night. Some have followed along since day one. Some think the idea is absolutely crazy and wonder how this has anything to do with being a youth minister. Some think it’s the coolest idea in the world. The truth is…all of the above have a good case and opinion. Giving a presentation on a personal journey is a hard thing to do…but I hope they saw my genuineness behind my Lenten journey through my words and readings of the blog.
In the end, I am here to learn more about the community I live in…the good…the bad…the ugly.
Going into the night, I was excited to get to talk to William in a more peaceful environment. I wanted to hear more about this life story…and actually hear him talk without the distraction of the weather.
One thing was missing…
Where was that guy?
I assumed he would arrive sometime before 10pm….but he never did. Then 11pm…and he was still not back. Then came Midnight…but he was a no show…so I fell asleep in his barn all alone. This might seem unnerving but it is not all that surprising. William has friends all around the city and a brother (a retired vet), who lives near town. Sometimes William finds shelter with friends, family, or at a place where he finds work. On the other hand…William could have had too much to drink and was unable to make it back home. I hope he found a good place to sleep.
Staying at William’s barn without him present was strange at first. It was kind of like staying at a friends house when they are out of town. It seemed invasive and rude. Was I invading his privacy? Despite having his permission to stay here anytime…I had second thoughts about crashing on his floor all alone.
I had very little choice after 10pm because I had missed my curfew at the outdoor shelter. It was stay at his barn, under a bridge, or find another place of shelter. I decided to stay in the barn and wait for William.
Despite the mess, dirt, and trash all over the barn. It is a good place to sleep when all things are considered. The good news! I can easily sleep without disturbance from trains, loud people throughout the night, or have a shelter employee wake me up early (5am-6:30am) to return a mat. It was quite nice to have that much privacy and freedom…to choose when to sleep and wake up.
The barn was quiet compared to the night before during the storm. Nevertheless, I sometimes struggle with the outdoor shelter I stay at most nights…especially when it comes to the noise and lack of freedom. It’s very loud and restrictive. Too many people and too many problems live inside those walls. Despite it’s pros…the shelter is very noisy. I always wonder how difficult it is to stay there if someone is trying to recover from addictions, abuse, or other illnesses, and just needing a peaceful place to rest. I can’t imagine it is helpful to be awakened by the train every hour…
I am sure the organization received a great deal on the real estate based on the location…but at what cost? Is it worth the countless sleepless nights?
The noise and the lack of freedom is the major reason William decides to stay in his barn, and he rarely sleeps in the outdoor shelter (despite the obvious aid he receives). The shelter is confining and limits his freedom to make common everyday decisions….like when you sleep or when you wake up.
Spending the night alone in his barn has helped me realize William’s dilemma. Do I go receive aid and assistance at a shelter that takes away some basic freedoms…or do I find peace and rest all alone at a place where nobody can bother me?
It’s a hard choice.
19 More Days to go.
Deuteronomy 10:14-19: Posted on
Look around you: Everything you see is God’s—the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children—that’s you!—out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.
You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.
Reverently respect God, your God, serve him, hold tight to him,
back up your promises with the authority of his name.
He’s your praise! He’s your God!
He did all these tremendous, these staggering things
that you saw with your own eyes. (The Message)
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