Days 39-42: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection

Below I are the 2012 blogs about some of the last days of my “40 Days of Haven” journey. That week I also reflected on the themes of Holy Week which you can read here.

Mental health is one of the issues that traps many people experiencing homelessness and keeps them on the streets. According to Mental Illness Policy Org:

“Numerous studies have reported that approximately one-third of homeless persons have a serious mental illness, mostly schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The percentage is higher among those who are chronically homeless and among homeless women…There is evidence that those who are homeless and suffering from a psychiatric illness have a markedly elevated death rate from a variety of causes. This is not surprising since the homeless in general have a three times higher risk of death than the general population and severely ill individuals have a 2.4 times higher risk of death during any year.”

https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/consequences/homeless-mentally-ill.html

Unfortunately, service providers have a hard time keeping pace with the issue and can’t offer the proper resources to adequately treat the disease. We also have a tendency to justify our inaction for those who are homeless with mental disease because we believe they chose to be homeless. Mental Illness Policy Org writes, “Most homeless individuals with severe psychiatric disorders are not being treated. Most of them have anosognosia and are not aware that they are sick, but legally we protect their right to remain sick. As one news reporter noted: “It’s as if we suddenly decided to respect the ‘right’ of Alzheimer’s patients to wander wherever they please. Sounds ridiculous, but that’s basically the situation with so many of the people we call ‘homeless.’

In the blogs below, I write about Jesse (whos real name is Josh, and who I wrote about earlier) and the night he cut himself very deep. Josh has been on and off the streets since 2012 with various stints in jail and group homes. The main issue for Josh is his mental health that leads to more addiction and behavior that keeps him from successfully finding a proper home. Since his release from prison in 2021, the far majority of places won’t allow him to rent even when he is employed and has income. (Which leads us to another huge gap in the system.) Josh has been a loyal friend and I know with proper and sustainable care he would be able to fully recover and start a new life. We will keep fighting for him!

The night Josh hurt himself, Georgia (who’s real name was Joshua) and I really thought Josh could pass away and we were extremely worried about him. Luckily we had each other to lean on during this time. He was a strong man who I write about here. Joshua and I were thankful that Josh was able to get help at the hospital and stay there a few nights.

Also in the last week, I visited Robert one more time in county jail and we made a much deeper connection. He became a dear friend that I will write about more later. Side Fact: During the 40+ days, I wrote about Robert and William many times. However, I must admit that I actually changed the name of William a few times to “Robert” when he would get intoxicated and when he got arrested for trespassing. At first, I did this for privacy concerns but later realized it was an honest way to write about William at the time. As you might understand, when someone is addicted, using, and/or intoxicated they usually act like an entirely different person. According to Nove Recovery, “Unfortunately, scientific research confirms the fact that addiction changes the brain, altering the way one’s brain functions and disrupting its normal balance. Various types of drugs affect the brain in different ways, but most drugs produce powerful waves of dopamine that are highly addictive and harmful.” Addictions change someone that much. The earlier blog “Pizza & Vodka” is a good example of this change. When William was drunk, he went from being the sweetest man to the meanest and uncontrollable man you could meet. Luckily, William was able to get help and control his addiction in the last years of his life.

Please read the last few blogs from 2012 and I will back tomorrow to recap Holy Week 2022 and finish my reflection of 2012.

Cutter: Posted on 

The last few Monday’s have seem to be hard days for me on the streets.

Monday: Tornado Warning
Monday: Abuse and Detained
Monday: ………….

I arrived at the homeless shelter just after I had dinner with some of my Young Life students at Edison High School. (I think it’s great that I work with students at both Alamo Heights and Edison…those two schools are not getting along right now…)

Once I arrived, I waited in line to be checked by security but before I got to the front I realized that I had forgotten to organize my backpack. At the shelter, you cannot bring in medication of any kind without informing the authorities and allowing them to administer the drugs 1-3 times a day.

I decided to risk it…and sneak my meds in…

As I entered the gates I was chosen for a pat down after my belt set off the metal detector. I was pulled aside for a pat down. Bad News.

After the pat down was over, they found out that I had a bag of antacids in my pocket.

They were not happy to say the least. They pulled me aside to interview me about my medication and to see if I had other drugs hidden in my bag. They were not very understanding.

After my bag was deemed clean, they still needed to find out if I had told the truth. Through a simple google search of the pill number, they realized I was telling the truth and gave me a stern warning. (I could have been kicked out for the night…)

Once inside, I ran into Georgia just before he laid down his mat to listen to music on his player. Here is where I leaned that our good friend Jesse was checked into the psychiatric ward at the Baptist Hospital downtown.

Jesse is a nice guy (26 years old) but is wild by nature. Bi-Polar would be a good way to describe him…however, one thing Jesse does not do is lie. Even if it gets him in trouble. Over the last few weeks, apart from William and Robert (who live in the barn…), Georgia and Jesse have been solid friends…despite their crazy ways. One thing is for sure…they are loyal…very loyal. I needed that on the streets the past 40 days.

Jesse is a cutter.

Meaning…Jesse cuts his arms with a razor to feel the pain (and make marks) on his body. I am not an expert on cutting…but some of my youth have struggled with this destructive habit. There are many reasons people cut themselves…but for Jesse…he cuts himself so he can “feel something” in his life…even if it hurts. Despite the harm, the pain is that something. Cutting makes him feel “alive”…and feel some emotion in his life. The twisted practice is not too far off from how monastic monks used to flagellate their bodies as an extreme form of mortification of their own flesh (penance)… by whipping themselves with various instruments.

Regardless, it’s an extremely harmful way to justify feeling and emotion….both for Jesse and the monks.

Earlier in the night, Jesse cut way too deep into his arm. It was bleeding everywhere…so when he arrived near the outdoor shelter, Georgia told him to go to the ER and receive help. Jesse listened to his friend and checked himself into the psychiatric ward at the hospital near the shelter. That is when I arrived and learned from Georgia about Jesse’s problem.

It was a bad week. In just seven days…two of my four friends were no longer able to be free. Jesse was in the hospital and William was in jail. It was just Georgia and I that night… hanging in the outdoor shelter. My friends were being depleted.

To get our mind off our problems, Georgia and I watched a movie on a laptop he traded for his phone. We watched the X-Men Prequel. It was really good. Just for kicks… Who are the mutants in our society?

After the movie, we went to bed…so we could wake up early, find work for Georgia, and visit Jesse in the hospital.

We got up at 6am and had breakfast. It was really basic….but we ate the food anyway. Beggars can’t be choosers.

After we ate, we walked outside to unlock Georgia’s bike so he could ride around and find work. We quickly realized his bike was stolen overnight.

Georgia was very mad. Actually…really, really mad. We went to the shelter security and they said they would review the cameras and locate the thief. I doubted their commitment. However, they eventually tracked the guy down and kicked him out for 7 days. That did not ease Georgia’s mind.

To calm down, Georgia and I went to buy a few cigars and then went to take showers at TriPoint. It helped…but Georgia was still hacked…and depressed. The bike was his transportation. It meant a lot to him.

Just before we were about to walk down to visit Jesse, my church worship leader called and reminded me (and the other pastoral staff) of a commitment we had made to attend an Easter banquet for women in the Rehab Center that we support. The men of our staff had planned to escort the ladies around the room in an Easter Parade during the banquet. It is good old Baptist fun! But I was late!!!

Georgia said we could delay the hospital visit and take care of the banquet….so Georgia and I ran a mile to the church to make the parade just in time. In fact…Georgia became one of the escorts. He even wore a top hat and cane while leading a lady around the banquet room. It was classic Gavin…pulling a friend into a random activity they woke up never dreaming they would do that day…but it was awesome. For a moment, Georgia was able to help someone else in need and forget about his own problems! It was a God Moment.

After the Easter Parade, we headed down to see Jesse but the hospital did not allow us to visit him. He was still on Suicide Watch and could not see unapproved visitors….even though I am a Baptist Minister visiting a Baptist Hospital. Rules are rules.

So we went to find a job. Over the next few hours we looked for work. But nobody was hiring…it was a depressing journey.

But I learned something…if you say on your application that you live at the shelter…they will not hire you. The shelter is where many of my friends receive mail…and paperwork…but they will be blocked from employment due to the fear of homelessness.

I was now even more depressed.

Are we really that shallow?

A few days later…Jesse was released. We spent the entire day today hanging out around San Antonio. I even took him to our church’s community center and allowed him to take a long shower at the YMCA. It was good to see him clean…but his scars were bad.

It made me think…

Christ death offers us to experience and feel true life. His sorrow offers us true joy. Tomorrow we mourn how he allowed his body to be cut and broken so we don’t have to experience the pain and cuts of death that we deserved to feel. I hope Jesse learns to trust in God more…so he can feel the Love that will last forever…and not trust in the pain of cutting that will only be felt for a moment.

Free Love: Posted on 

When Jesse and I (along with many others) were raided by the SAPD, I was amazed by how many people were coming out from under the bridges and bushes nearby.  (You can read about the raid in the post called “Detained.”)

Why were so many people sleeping under the bridge? The area was not very clean.  It was trashed out, damp, and smelled like a mixture between motor oil and urine.  The shelter is just down the street…why would they not sleep in the indoor shelter…or the outdoor shelter?

I was surprised to see so many of my friends (who regularly sleep at the outdoor shelter) around the bridge that night and the next morning during the raid.  They usually are sleeping on mats…why would the go sleep in the bushes?

Then… one truth was revealed.

“We are human. We got to make love somewhere— my friend Jesse honestly confessed.

Oh my gosh…they were rolling in the hay…literally…rolling in the hay.

I was surprised to hear that…but I don’t know why…after learning more…it began to make sense.

Personal connection and touch is a real human emotion.  We all have the same bodies.  We all desire love and physical connection.  Despite one’s view of sex and marriage…many have the freedom and liberty to choose how to participate in sexual behavior.

If we want to…we have homes for privacy…not bushes or bridges.
If we want to…we can stay late at our girlfriends and boyfriends house…and only risk our parents wrath…
If we want to…we can sleep around…and only risk the destruction of our marriage, current relationship, and faith….not our civil freedom.

In everyone of these situations..there is a common freedom.  Freedom to make good choices and freedom to make bad choices—-and many are very bad choices…!

However, most of my homeless friends are limited to no freedom when it comes to personal touch or physical encounters…married and not married.

In the indoor shelter (for good reason) the dorm buildings are separated and not co-ed.  Only a few couples qualify for married housing…until then you are separated with no place to go.

In the outdoor shelter (for good reason) the courtyard is separated into men’s and women’s sleeping areas.  Members of the opposite sex are not allowed to enter the other’s area for any reason.  No sitting together on the mat…no snuggling…and definitely no sexual contact.

I don’t blame the shelter for the rules…they need to be in place.  However, when there is a lack of common freedom within a community…the members of that community will usually find ways to gain some of that freedom back at any cost…

Even if it’s destructive to their body, other people, or property.

The cost:  a trespassing ticket…or jail.

Freedom…its a tricky thing.
Love is even tricker.

I don’t have any good solutions yet. However I know that the lack of liberty and lack of places of shelter for the homeless to find privacy is a big problem—-  even when the problem seems as simple as making out with your beau.

What are your thoughts?

Visitation: Posted on 

I went to visit Robert in the County Jail today. I needed to get Ministerial rights to visit outside the normal visitation hours. After I was set to go by the jail’s chaplain…I went in to visit Robert.

Robert went missing the same night I finished working my shift at the Vegetable Plant. He was gone for 7 days. We found his backpack by the barn…which he never leaves alone…so we were concerned for his safety when he did not return that next day. On day seven…I called the “missing persons” hotline and they informed me he had been arrested for trespassing.

I did not know how easy it was to get that information from the police. Who knew?!

I was relieved to hear this news. It meant that Robert was okay and safe…and sober!

I needed to go visit him. For many nights of my journey, Robert was kind enough to allow me to stay with him…so I definitely owed him a visit and a good hello.

To be honest,  I have never been on a pastoral jail visit. I have visited shut ins, children and adults in hospitals, funeral homes, and schools as a pastor…but never a jail.

Jail can be an intimidating place to visit. There are multiple security check points, the absence of public parking (since it is located in a bad part of town), and the lack of windows is hard enough to absorb…not including the sight of the prisoners.

It was kind of like what you see in the movies. After the security approved my ID…I was sent to booth #6 where Robert would meet with me on the other side of the window. A circular hole was cut in the middle and screened off so 2 people could speak to each other easily.

After waiting there for 5 minutes or so…I saw Robert’s head peek through the opposite door.

He smiled bigger than I have ever seen him smile…and he said, “John!”

I have gone by John a lot during this lenten journey.  John is my first name, and the name that is printed on my outdoor shelter badge. Gavin is my middle name.

Robert sat down in the booth, and we both leaned toward the window so we could talk to each other better.

Robert is 52 and homeless.
I am 30 and not homeless…but I now consider him one of my best friends in San Antonio. He is one of the few people who actually knows that I am on a Lenten fast.

I feel like I know him better than some of my friends that I have known for years….Something about living together on the streets bonds people together.

He told me about the arrest and how he was only walking on the sidewalk…when he interrupted a downtown social party at a nearby club. They did not like him being there so they called the cops. A scene broke out, and the cops arrested him for trespassing.

Now, I don’t know what really took place…but I bet there is more than just his side of the story.

However, he seemed to be telling some truth.

In my 40 days, I have witnessed businesses overreact when it comes to managing homeless people on the streets. It’s a difficult thing to manage as a business owner when working near downtown.

I don’t always blame them.

Robert was in the detox program at the jail, and he will be there until they release him for timed served. 1-2 weeks at best. 1 month at worst.

He was worried about his things in his barn. I told him not to worry about his stuff. A few days ago, I had gone to get most of it: his backpack, jacket, cowboy hat, boots, etc. (You should have seen me carry all that stuff back to the front porch of my house…it was a funny sight.) I really looked like a bum walking down the street.

After 20 minutes, he had to go to dinner.

I told him to stay safe…and that we could not wait to see him when he gets out. Then he put his hand on the glass. So did I.

It was good to see him.

I love that guy to death.

It was good to see Robert’s face not worn down by the alcohol. He is such a sweet and gentle man when sober…even slightly sober.

His eyes were happy.

So was I.

Park: Posted on 

A friend showed me this link:  San Antonio will allow campers during the Easter Weekend at local city parks.  Looks like the homeless can camp without getting arrested for a night.

You probably already know about this…but just in case you don’t. http://www.woai.com/news/local/story/San-Antonio-to-open-city-parks-for-Easter-camping/zD1rceF__EqiryqpYN72Ug.cspx?rss=68
Looks like you can “camp” over the weekend and not get arrested! :) Might be a fun experience!

Baylor T-Shirt: Posted on 

When I was an undergraduate at Baylor University in Waco, Texas I had a huge collection of Baylor T-Shirts. From Young Life, Kanakuk, Sorority Parties, and from sporting events we would usually lose (this was before we had a Heisman Trophy Winner, a #1 Women’s Bball Team, and a Elite 8 Men’s Team!)

All but a few of my shirts (except my “Keep Waco Wacko” shirt…I still wear that one!) are now somewhere in storage collecting dust and not being used.

Completely Unused.

A few days ago, I gained one more Baylor Shirt…This time it came from the donation center at one of the homeless shelters in town. I did not ask for it or find it on the rack but it was given to me in a donation when I requested a medium t-shirt (I was all out!) from the closet.

You don’t handpick what you get. It’s just given to you. I thought it was very ironic…

I went to Baylor.
Received a BS in Education there.
Was called into Ministry there in 2003.

It’s a funny feeling to be wearing a college t-shirt from your alma mater…at a homeless shelter…when you are homeless…

Somebody, unlike me, gave away some of their unused Baylor shirts for a better use than a keep sake…Whoever it was…Thank You!!!

How many people would really believe I went there when I am now living at the shelter or on the streets?

Is there anyone living on the streets that went to Baylor? Maybe…I don’t know.

Just a crazy thought…and I am reading way to much into this…

Anyway,

Sic’ Em Bears.

20120402-132406.jpg

Psalm 41:1-3: Posted on 

Blessed is he who considers the poor;
The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive,
And he will be blessed on the earth;
You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness;
You will sustain him on his sickbed. (NKJV)

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