Ten years ago I wrote a commentary entitled “Common Humanity Among Amabout my Lenten Journey for the San Antonio Express News. You can read the published and edited version here. Abe Levy also covered the story from his perspective around the same time. Abe continued to follow the story of Willie (William Schooman) in the years to come. More on that later!
Below is the unedited and raw version of my commentary:
When I decided to live on the streets for the 40 days of Lent I did not know much about homeless life. In fact. I knew nothing at all.
Many of us, including myself, have a fear of homeless people. Despite our common humanity we have developed stereotypical views about the homeless and justify our actions (even in charity) when interacting with them or dealing with common problems.
When I accepted my call to serve at Trinity Baptist Church I was surprised to see how diverse the area had become. One mile East of TBC lays the beautiful city of Alamo Heights. One mile west lays the Edison neighborhood. It does not take much to see the vast diversity and differences between the two areas (just read about the State playoffs…both schools chanted offensive cheers about each high school.)
As a pastor, and more importantly, as a Christian I am called to love God with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself without favoritism. I am good at that in some ways… I am a member of the Downtown Rotary Club and minister to students all over our city. But there is one section of my community that I constantly neglected. The homeless.
I never humanized the homeless. Even when they would hang at the church’s community center or walk down my street I never made an effort to know who they were. I had humanized my church members, even my junior high students, but I never humanized the homeless. They were the ones we served on mission trips…but never befriended on an equal playing field.
One of the great scandals of Christianity is that its followers believe God humbled himself to become a human being. In fact his disciple Matthew writes even the foxes had their dens and the birds had their roosts but Jesus Christ had nowhere to lay his head. That is the same man I follow and call my Lord humanized homelessness.
After much prayer I decided to do something radical…give up my home and become homeless for 40 days. Many people give something up for Lent, such as coke, beer, or television. Participating this way makes us apart of the religious community. It looks good….and possibly even physically helpful. Giving up my home was my Lenten discipline. But replacing it with Scripture, prayer, and deeper relationships with the community is where I would find the true Spiritual reward.
Why my home? Did my home keep me from God? Not necessarily. However, my home did keep me from truly getting to know the homeless citizens in my community on an equal level. So I gave it up to live among.
True Christian ministry is to live among.
Live among the people. Live among the broken hearted. Live among our neighbors. Even our enemies.
My journey was an amazing adventure. Over the 40 days I learned more about humanity than I ever learned in college, seminary, or places of ministry. Living outside creates a new reality of living. Everything is public. The sounds, the smells, the relationships, and the danger. Everything is wide open and seen by others. Your identity totally changes. The first night I became homeless I was ashamed to ask the bus driver where Haven for Hope was on the bus stop. She would know I was homeless. When walking around with my sleeping bag I could feel the sting of awkward looks by passers by who disliked my presence. Overnight…the places I used to eat and hang out in seemed closed and unwelcoming. My identity was altered from confidence to shame.
This would slowly change after building relationships with others who live on the streets. I met people who were just as hospitable as my parishioners, just as crazy as my friends, and just as diverse as the city. My common stereotype of the homeless was becoming broken. We all have to rely on each other to survive. For example, during the thunderstorm a few weeks ago a friend I met let me sleep in his shed during the storm to stay safe. It begged me to ask…Would I allow a homeless person stay in my house to stay safe during a storm? It pains me that I don’t have the answer. I ran into great citizens and churches of San Antonio that would treat the homeless as equals and give in abundance their love and resources. You can read more about my daily experiences on my blog.
San Antonio has many Saints living inside the city. Some work at Haven, some serve at churches, and some serve alone with a vision to live among their neighbors.
When the 40 days were coming to a close. I found myself depressed about leaving my new home and my new friends. In fact, I felt no longer homeless. I felt loved and cared for by people who call the I-10 overpass their home. I was sad to leave. There is something strangely comforting about living together with so many people. You get used to the openness. You get used to the lifestyle.
Living on the streets has its problems. And the problems are severe and disconcerting. There is drug use, abuse, and basic irresponsibleness. But despite the severity, I learned that we all have the same problems. We all struggle with love, addictions, common drive, and illnesses. Our differences lie in how we package our problems, create social barriers, and how we find monetary resources.
On Easter morning…when I was walking back to my home it felt surreal. Even unknown. I was suppose to going back to normal life…but I don’t know what normal means anymore.
That afternoon I spent Easter lunch with a homeless friend Josh’s family. He had a family! I thought the meal might be awkward due to the economic differences’…but I realized that God bridges those gaps when we allow God to. I was beginning to humanize homelessness.
That night as I laid in my bed inside my home and I could not sleep. Other than my dog…it was extremely silent. It was so strange to be back indoors. I was always outdoors in wide open spaces. Now, I am in a box of a room. It seems so small…yet it’s big and comfortable.
I felt alone…even when I am suppose to have it all.
The reality is that tonight 3,500 people did not have a home to come back to after 40 days of Lent. My journey was a simulation….was it wrong? I hope not.
We can’t fix everyone’s problems but we can begin to humanize them.
By: Gavin Rogers, Unedited Debrief of 40 Days of Haven, 2012
Last night was the last night out for Holy Week 2022. It was good to reconnect with friends and the community on the streets. It was also nice to reflect on my 2012 Lenten blog posts that I wrote ten years ago. What a decade!
Yesterday, I went out with my dear friend Neville who showed me how he used to live in downtown San Antonio by collecting boxes and building temporary shelter each night. I have known Neville since 2017 when I started to work more directly with clients in downtown. Over the years, we have visited the beach, toured my farm, and spent countless nights getting to know one another. Neville currently is housed at the SAMM hotel and working toward a permanent place to live with the help of his best friend and outreach worker Valerie Salas from CAM and other case workers at his shelter. You can read more about Valerie and Neville in this touching story. Their story often reminds me of my friendship with Willie that started in 2012. Relationships like these really do prove that “Friendship Knows No Homelessness.”
Neville and I met at 8pm yesterday to collect boxes that work well for shelter and planned a strategy for overnight. Neville prefers the boxes from Subway, so we had to wait until they reopened after the Easter holiday, then we could use the Frito Lay boxes that work well for his design.) Neville reminded me, “The Frito Lay boxes are much preferable for shelter. They are clean and just the right size to connect together to form a cocoon. You just have to be quick to snag them. On the streets there is ‘box supply and demand’. If you miss the clean ones, you might have to use dirty ones from the dumpster or not use any at all. There is a whole economic equation out there.” It took us a few rounds to get all the boxes for the night. “I’m a little rusty” Neville said while laughing, “I used to do this all the time! We will find them.”
After collecting the desired boxes, we went to find a safe place to sleep outside and rebuild his design from the collection. He connected the boxes like a caterpillar and so he could sleep inside the row of boxes similar to being inside a cocoon. “Not only does it block out most the light,” Neville recalls, “but it also provides nice insulation with some breathable spaces.”
After building our shelter we got into our separate cocoons to go to sleep. We talked about the stars, what it was like living outside, and his favorite theological concepts. Neville has a deep sense of faith and loves to talk about numerology, religion, and Jesus’ teaching. It might sound strange but Neville is really connected to the Spirit and how all of us are interconnected through shared science and experiences in this life.
The cocoon was interesting to sleep in, and not trying to make it better than it seems, but I have to admit, it was actually much more peaceful than sleeping open by the sidewalk. “I first thought it would feel like a coffin,” Neville warned me, “but it’s really nice most nights.” There were a few moments I felt a bit trapped but his design was just big enough to move around, reposition, and find a good position to sleep. That’s why I love Neville, and so many people on the streets, they find great value in the smallest of treasures and rarely take gifts for granted. Neville provided me a gift last night and I will celebrate the comfort I found inside those Frito Lay boxes he found. They are the best!
Neville is very intelligent. He is originally from Zimbabwe and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Cleveland State University and taught science in Ohio and Texas. He enlisted in the Army and worked as an engineer at Fort Hood in Killeen, TX. Soon after enlisting in the Army, Neville started showing signs of schizophrenia and was honorably discharged because of his medical condition. Unfortunately, Neville’s condition worsened over the years and he ended up experiencing homelessness first in Austin then in San Antonio on Houston Street. Neville has been in San Antonio for around 5 or 6 years and started attending Corazon on Sundays at Travis Park (a block away from where he would sleep) and began working with Valerie Salas when she was a Block to Block outreach worker for Centro serving the unhoused in downtown and around Haven for Hope. To be honest, we all thought Neville would be stuck on the streets in San Antonio indefinitely so Valerie started connecting Neville with his family in Zimbabwe to see if there was a way to get him back home to receive better care. That was on track before Covid-19 restrictions kept altering the plan.
During this time, doctors from SA Street Medicine and the Corazon Clinic started getting Neville on new medication to treat his schizophrenia. Miraculously, the new medication did wonders and started to really heal Neville’s mental struggles and allow him to find emotional balance on a daily basis. Now, the Neville that only a few of knew about started to be seen by everyone and he was able to successfully find a place to stay in San Antonio. Through these experiences, Neville has become more of friend and brother to Valerie, Morgan and I rather than a client. Through his vulnerability, he has helped us learn new ways to connect, seek treatment, find hope, and trust sometimes the long road to recovery. We are all grateful for his friendship, loyalty, and humor.
The below blog posts are the last of my 2012 lenten journey when it ended on Easter of that year. Please enjoy the reflections and all the past blog posts. The Season of Easter is all about celebrating new life and finding hope in the resurrection. Both on this Earth and in heaven. I am humbled each and everyday when I get to witness this joyous resurrection in the lives of so many people we work alongside with at Corazon. Each day is challenging but miracles happen!
I will continue to share more as we all continue to serve our siblings on the streets of San Antonio.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”
Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.
He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”
They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.
Christianity started once the Mary’s announced “Christ is Risen.”
The good thing is that we don’t have to be afraid or trembling. Christ is ahead of us in Galilee. Already at work!
In Your life In My life
All we need to do is follow the Risen Lord!
Our fear as been turned into hope. Our death has been turned into life!
Christ is Risen He is Risen Indeed
Today. Jesse came with me to church. He was famous. People were glad to get to know him and say thank you for looking after me.
Today I will go eat with Jesse’s family and get to know his mother. I cannot wait! Tonight, I have Easter dinner with my family and friends at my house!
This experience has been not about me. It’s first about Jesus Christ. And Second, it’s about guys like Jesse.
I am a fallen person who makes mistakes everyday. Everyday. I Made plenty of mistakes during this journey.
The good news:
God forgives. He is Risen.
——- I will share more about the end of my journey this week. Thanks for following.
A friend of mine, named Cowboy, told me that “nobody on the streets should be called homeless. Our home is where we lay our head. That could be the shelter, a bridge, or a friend’s floor.” It sounds cliche…but home really is where you make it.
The blogs posts below were my last two blogs before my journey ended on Easter.
It was a very strange feeling the last 2-3 days on the streets as I started to conclude my Lenten journey. I met some amazing people who really took me under their wing so we could manage the streets and form a close community of friends. I also got to learn about so many groups and nonprofits that serve all throughout the city. One of those being “Taking It To The Streets” that still exists today!
My last night was a night of community and sharing. It was cold but we all shared what we had so we all could stay warm, create a pallet, and make it through the night. It was a great final display of the amazing people I met on the streets and what they will do for one another even when other people ignore them, their gifts, and what they can offer to the community around them. That night WOAI ran a story about my journey. I was afraid to reveal my journey to my friends but they fully supported and helped me tell the story even when they knew nothing about when I began the 40 days. They are heroes.
When reflecting on “Marriage” blog post below, my friend Joshua (Who I called Georgia in the old blog) still comes to mind. I still have not met another person who was willing to live homeless in an outdoor shelter so his or her spouse could receive treatment and find healing. He truly took his vows “For Richer and For Poorer” seriously and never wiggled out of his commitment to his wife. For months Joshua lived outside and waited for her to graduate from her program. When she completed the program they both moved to Seattle where he could find stable employment. He still lives there today. You can read more about his story below.
Tonight I am going out one last time for Holy Week 2022 with my friend Neville. He is going to show me how he used to survive on the streets by building shelter out of boxes. Will post again tomorrow.
A few weeks ago, the second night I slept under the bridge (which happened to be the night after I slept under a bridge for the first time) was a nervous night for me. I was not afraid of any apparent danger by other homeless people…but I was afraid to get busted by the police.
SAPD had already given me a warning for trespassing and was told the next time I would receive an actual violation. But my friends made me feel better…they told me because the bridge was busted the night before…it was unlikely that it would happen 2 times in a row….(I don’t know how sound the logic was…but it sounded good.)
That night, Jesse made the decision to not sleep because he could not sleep well during the night (the talking, trains, etc…) and needed to have a less stressful environment. I thought it was funny to assume a bridge is more peaceful than the outdoor shelter…but in someways, it is true.
After meeting 2 other friends who were homeless, CT and Lindsey, we went under the I-10 bridge to find our spot and create a large pallet. (Jesse forgot his blankets…so we needed to combine resources.)
Unlike the night before, where I was in bushes in between bridges, we found an area truly under the bridge with a exit ramp close to where we were sleeping. It was louder, but still constant enough to get used to the sound to sleep quite well.
The ground was not smooth but covered in gravel…so we laid all of our sleeping bags and blankets down for padding and used a friends giant blanket to cover to stay warm. Jesse, who does not like group pallets, used my bag to sleep in. (See Photo) Unlike most Spring nights, where the weather is cool….this night was cold…so it made it even more communal.
A few years ago, when I was a youth pastor at UUMC in north San Antonio, I led a group of High School students on a poverty simulation in Waco, Texas. For 3 days and 2 nights our students became citizens in poverty and had choices to make…like whether to spend their money on indoor bunks vs food, clothes vs blankets, toothbrush vs toothpaste, etc. Because the weather seemed good, all the students, including myself and the intern, chose to stay outside and save money. It was a bad decision. Around 1am a thunderstorm hit and a cool front entered Waco. It was miserable. All of our stuff got soaked and we were freezing. We had to huddle down and bear through the pain. After some investigation around the outdoor courtyard, some of our students found a storage shed that was full of old tables. They decided to empty the shed and sleep inside. It was not a bad plan! After the bin was cleaned out, all of us huddled up inside and warmed up! It was truly effective. We really needed each other to stay comfortable. Two of our students stayed outside because they were sleeping on top of a washer and dryer. (They were like Jesse…better off alone…but still smart enough to survive)
This night reminded me of that experience. All of us under the pallet needed each body to create heat inside the make shift pallet. It worked nicely. You get to know someone really fast when you have to sleep that close… strange… but also comforting.
It was a good vision of community. Each of us were needed to stay comfortable the whole night.
During my 40 days I have met some amazing people. As I said before, the diversity within homelessness is much larger than I anticipated.
There are people with full time jobs. There are people with temp jobs. There are travelers who love to hop towns. There are drug addicts unable to skip their fix. There are the mentally ill. There are scholars. There are students. There are believers. There are non-believers. There are people who are single. There are people who are married.
I have to be honest, meeting married couples in the homeless community was not on my radar. It’s not like I was unaware of homeless couples, but I was not really looking to find it.
During my journey, I have met 3 married couples around town living in shelters and on the streets. (There are more…but these are the ones I met.)
The first couple was married in a ceremony during the Church Under the Bridge service on a Sunday I visited. It was a sweet service that took place during normal worship. I like that. Why do we make such a big deal about weddings? Let’s start making a big deal about marriage. I posted their photo below.
The second couple I met have been living in the outdoor shelter together for quite some time (although they are not allowed to sleep in the same section or any contact deemed “purple.” They have been married for 9 years and have been on and off the streets. They have their common fights (usually in public due to the lack of privacy in the outdoor shelter) but always seem to stick together.
The third couple is the couple I know the best. Georgia (whom I have mentioned before) has been married to his wife for just over a year. Due to their circumstances, they sought out the shelter (even from out of state) to help take care of his wife.
However, this was not Georgia’s first marriage. He was married for over 15 years to his first wife. When Georgia and his first wife were pregnant with their first child, both she and the baby were tragically killed in a car accident. They were taken away from Georgia and this world.
Georgia was broken. And rightly so.
Why would God take them from this world?
Years passed before Georgia began to date again. The sting of the deaths were too much to handle.
Then he met Denise…
They dated and got married. They have been married for 2 years and are deeply committed to each others needs.
Denise struggles with deep depression and PTSD—so they hand picked the San Antonio shelter to receive the best care possible.
Being homeless and married creates a hard situation.
For Georgia…that means sleeping outside for months until his wife gets out of the shelter.
Gives a whole new meaning to the vow “For Richer and For Poorer”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)
The last week of my 40+ day journey during Lent 2012 was an interesting one as I was looking toward Easter and completing the journey. I had mixed emotions about the end of the journey but I wanted to complete the journey and make sure the friendships I formed would remain beyond the experience.
I remember the feeling I felt when I could not find my friend Robert who went to Jail for trespassing. We both slept in the same abandoned barn for many nights. It took me some time to figure out he was arrested for trespassing and the nights sleeping outside alone without him were a very lonely. I felt nervous, vulnerable, and helpless in the barn he let us sleep in. Luckily, I got to visit him in jail a few times and connect with him through a glass window. I can’t remember if he got out before Easter but we remained friends for years to come!
Also in the last week or so, I ventured out to experience things that my friends would often do to survive on the streets in various ways. One day, I decided to sleep at the San Antonio “Bunkhouse.” The bunkhouse is like a men’s hostel or dormitory for those needing a very cheap place to stay with a bunk, shower, and back porch to relax. It is not the best place to sleep but offers more freedom than strict shelters. The bunkhouse is still open today and many of my friends on the streets, including my Josh from 2012, still sleep there today.
I also went to visit a plasma bank with Georgia so we could get some money to pay for the bunkhouse and things we wanted to buy. To be honest, I think we all went to Bond 007 Bar in San Antonio for a fun night out to celebrate with some extra cash! At the time they had .75 cent Natural Light bottles for sale at the bar! And free popcorn. So we let loose!
Enjoy the reflections from some of the last days of the 2012 journey. Tonight, for Holy Week 2022, I am going out with my friend Neville again so he can show me how he used to survive on Houston street. It’s a Good Friday.
Supper: Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a banquet—-full of food and good company. For both the poor and the rich…all you needed to do was attend and not be distracted by work, school, and self interests.
So it’s only fitting that one of the last acts before Jesus’ death would be a meal with his disciples and friends.
It was the Jewish Passover. A yearly tradition for God’s people… But this supper was going to be different. It was his last.
They broke bread. They drank wine. They shared in community…even when a betrayer was in the room. They participated in the Body of Christ!
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Friday nights are good nights. For one, I can spend the entire day on the streets meeting new people, meeting up with friends, and focus on my Lenten practice.
The last few weeks have been more intense on the streets, and it was good to have a fairly relaxing day.
Another reason I like Fridays is that I get to attend Taking it to the Streets under the 9th Street Bridge. This outreach has become my favorite homeless ministry since I have begun my journey over 6 weeks ago. Church Under the Bridge San Antonio makes you attend the sermon before you eat..but this ministry allows you to eat…then have the option to have personal bible studies with small groups or a volunteer.
Both ministries have good reasons for their church’s mission practice…but I, personally, like the latter. Making Jesus compulsory seems to be slightly missing the point…but both are good!
This Friday, a friend of mine, Valarie Moss, was there serving as a volunteer as she does most weeks. After dinner was served, she had the opportunity to meet one on one with a homeless man she met at the dinner. They read scripture out loud, talked openly, and then prayed together. It was a beautiful sight. It was not staged, not overdone, and not required for food. It was very authentic.
Valerie is my hero of the day.
Plus, the church that was serving the food and clothes brought a BBQ grill and cooked grilled chicken breasts. It was fantastic! I love when churches bring their best when serving the poor. Not only was the food good…I could also see that the church volunteers were having a blast cooking the food together. They were bonding as well.
Since working last Saturday, I have saved an extra ten dollars from my 8 hours of cutting red bell peppers. I wanted to use it for a good experience with others.
The other night I learned about a men’s dormitory called the “Bunk House,” where many men sleep and socialize. It’s not a shelter, it’s not a halfway house, and it’s not a church. It’s more like a hostel for men who are homeless.
The cost is $10 a day. Or $60 a week. You get a bunk, sheets, showers, laundry, locker room, tv room, and outdoor patio where you can drink, eat, and smoke.
The quality is not the best…but the freedom is amazing.
I had just over $10 so I could get one night at the bunk house.
After checking in, I was assigned bunk 27. Top bunk. The mattress was torn and plastic like…but once I put my sheets on…it was all good!
Before I went to bed, I made sure to go out to the patio and visit with some of the men. The patio was quite crowded because of the weekend, but a fun environment. Men were laughing, shooting the breeze, watching sports, and even giving haircuts for free. I was tempted to get one…but I passed
The men were all nice. All asked me questions, gave me advice about where to find work (most of these men have more stable
jobs) and told me their own story. The spirit was much different than the shelter. A hard working man feel…like a fire station bunk house.
It’s surprising how much 10 bucks can get you!
In the dorm room, many of the men who sleep on the bottom bunks wrap the frame with flags, sheets, or blankets to create a fort like atmosphere inside. You can tell they want their privacy in the cabin like room. It was not too different from Summer Camp.
I slept really well at the Bunk House. Despite the smell, (it was like sniffing a giant dirty sock), the place was cool and comfortable. Well…the snoring could get bad with so many men in one room…but I had Paul Hoodless’ earplugs on standby.
Went to bed at 10pm…Woke up at 6am. Oh…by the way…check out is at 6. Kind of a bummer.
You will need to spend 10 dollars more to sleep in!
Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (The Message)
This past weekend, I got another temporary job that many of my homeless friends go to on Saturday. (Ironically…so do many college students….see what we all have in common!)
To get this job, I did not have to wake up at 3am to make a shift at a temp agency. No. I could get this job anytime between 8am-3pm….and it only takes 3 hours to complete. It sounded too good to be true.
Bad news: you cannot be afraid of needles, blood, or nurses.
The work: Plasma Donation The pay: $60.00
I arrived at BioTest Laboratories at 9:30am. (much better than 3) I has to sign in, verify my ID, SS#, and read a booklet on donating. After that was complete, I went through 2 physicals to make sure I was a healthy donor.
You get paid $60 dollars at this location for your first two visits…then around $25-35 for all other visits. It’s not a bad deal.
A nurse called my name and pointed to my chair. I was ready to go. When all the intake procedure was completed (They have a lot of questions…) I got in line to donate. The center I went to has 36 donation beds and machines. They were about 3/4 full so the line was not long.
All the other 5 beds in my section were full and already in the process of giving plasma. All but one person were shaking their feet in discomfort. Was it really that bad?
The nurse asked me for my SS# again, address, and number. They have to verify identity at every check point…for good reason.
Now…I was ready to be pricked.
I have given blood before…but not when they take blood out, take out the plasma, and put the blood back in.
Here we go…..prick.
It was not that bad…but I did look away. Blood went though the cords really fast. I was on my way to $60.00!
The procedure took over an hour, so I got on my phone and texted a few people. The discomfort was small…but my fingers were getting numb. However, I was amazed by the plasma machine and how it redirected my blood in all the right containers.
The nurse told me to always pump my fist. I understood…but pumping your fist over an hour gets tiring.
I started to wonder. Where my blood would go? Who would get my blood? Would people appreciate that their blood came from many homeless citizens?
Plasma often is referred to as the “gift of life” because it is the essential starting material needed to manufacture therapies that help thousands of people worldwide with rare, chronic diseases to live healthier, productive and fulfilling lives. In order to manufacture these vital therapies, and ensure that there is an adequate supply of plasma protein therapies to treat patients in need, plasma donors like you need to donate plasma at a local donation center. More facts about plasma can be found here.
30 mins into the donation my fingers went numb…and pressure started to build up in my arm. Painful…but not that bad.
60 mins…the discomfort grew…and I started to shake my feet to distract the awkward feeling of my blood reentering my arm. Now I know why the others were shaking…(except that one guy…I guess he is tough.)
Over an hour later…I was done…the nurse unhooked the cords, took the needle out of my arm and bandaged me up. I sat there for a while so I would not feel sick when getting up…but for the most part…I felt totally fine.
The nurse showed me the way out…and I got my 60.00 dollars. Wow…that’s a lot in this journey.
After I left the downtown plasma center, I realized that the city was celebrating the life of César Chávez (March 31) and having a parade on the road that was renamed (earlier this year) after the civil rights leader. Just recently, the SA City Council voted to change Durango Street to “César Chávez Blvd.”)
I wanted to check out the rally and parade. Community speeches by local leaders were going on all day at the Alamo.
César Chávez was an American farm worker born in Yuma, Arizona, who became a labor leader and civil rights activist for workers rights across the nation. Many of these workers were Hispanic. Along with Dolores Huerta, he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. (Now called the United Farm Workers.)
Like Martin Luther King, Chávez practiced non-violent protest. “Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak. Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win” Chavez said. “In some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence.”
It sounds quite familiar to my job last week: read iWork on March 24th. For Chávez, “the fight is never about grapes or lettuce…” it has always been “about people.” Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, he would support farm workers across the nation by helping them seek higher wagers, safer working environments, and improved immigration law though his speeches, fasts, and marches. One of his largest battles came in the 1970’s when the UFW organized strikes and boycotts for farm workers across the nation. Strikes such as the “Salad Bowl” strike (the largest farm worker strike in U.S. history) helped gain higher wages for those farm workers who were employed by grape and lettuce growers.
What I found interesting about Chávez was that he undertook a number of spiritual fasts similar to many non-violent leaders in the past. He treated his fasts as an act of “personal spiritual transformation”. In 1968, he fasted for 25 days, living out the practice of nonviolence. In 1970, Chávez began a fast of ‘thanksgiving and hope’ to counter the civil disobedience by fellow farm workers who acted out in violence. In 1972, he fasted after his state’s passage of legislation that prohibited boycotts and strikes by farm workers during the harvest seasons. He knew how to really, really fight. Not with a gun…not with a knife…but with a shovel in one hand and a bull horn in the other.
I now know why many people all across the nation, and especially the border states, place him on the same level of honor as Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for our own.” – César Chávez
Man…giving blood was nothing. I need to go back to the Vegetable Plant…
You shall not exploit a poor and needy hired servant, whether one of your own kindred or one of the resident aliens who live in your land, within your gates. On each day you shall pay the servant’s wages before the sun goes down, since the servant is poor and is counting on them. Otherwise the servant will cry to the LORD against you, and you will be held guilty. (NAB)
The first night under the bridge was an intense one. (You can recap Part 1 & 2 here.) But just when I thought a cigarette kept me from getting beat up…things got even worse. As I wrote yesterday, I remember each minute of this evening and night.
After we got to sleep under the bridge by Interstate 10, we thought we were good and could relax. The woman abused was cared for at the hospital, we avoided a fight, and found our friends! Now off to sleep. However, we were not expecting what was in store early the next morning.
That next morning all the homeless sleeping by I-10 were detained by police. We were aggressively woken by police and treated very rudely. Some were arrested and some let go. I learned later from Haven for Hope outreach workers that Haven would work with police to show them encampments so they could force attendance to their shelter. I hope this practice has stopped but it was disappointing to learn. Haven, at the time, made money from grants for each client served so it was financially beneficial for outreach workers to scout, work with police to detain the homeless, and then offer Haven verses going to jail.
Again, I know Haven has made great changes and has done more than most to help the unhoused community. I really believe their current leadership are great people with amazing attention. However, if I am honest, I too have been guilty of misunderstanding our own mission and taken advantage of a good cause. I have wrongly believed that grants and fundraising are more important than our clients. I have been that guy and work to learn, listen and repent.
During this Holy Week it’s important to remember that Jesus was homeless the last three years of his life and ministry. He too was arrested on trumped up charges that were financially beneficial to some.
Please reflect on these posts from 2012 this Holy Thursday night:
It’s amazing how something as simple as a smoke…can change someone’s attitude from rage and aggressive to calm and relaxed.
The night continued….
After meeting my new friends, we searched for Georgia and Jesse. We went under the bridge and could not find them. Cowboy told me that they were most likely sleeping between the two highways (in the center median) where many plants and bushes have been planted along Interstate 10. If the weather is nice…many homeless citizens sleep in between the highways in the bushes.
I called out for Georgia and Jesse and eventually found Jesse in a patch of bushes laying in his sleeping bag. (Georgia was out with his wife….who lives in a shelter near by…) Jesse allowed me to lay my bag in this area…and fall asleep. But first, I had to find something to lay on. After searching the area….I found a piece of flat styrofoam and torn tent material to lay my sleeping bag on so it would remain fairly clean and dry during the night.
I laid down in the bushes, between the highways…about 5 feet from the westbound traffic and a bridge wall. Cars and trucks were passing by constantly. It was loud…but not nearly as painful as the train horns…I could get used to the sound of the cars passing by…it was soothing in a strange way. Despite the location, it was very private. Hopefully, I would be safe from the traffic!
After laying down for a while, Jesse told me he could not sleep…so we walked around together and talked about life. I gave him a smoke. He showed me more places to stay near or under the city bridges….and after a while…we got tired, returned to our spot, and went to sleep.
The ground was hard. I had very little padding. Throughout the night my side or arm would go numb due to the hardness of the ground beneath my body. But for the most part, it was a good night sleep compared to the outdoor shelter. I could sleep as late as I wanted…and not be disturbed by an authority in the morning telling me what to do…
I was wrong. I would get to know another type of authority that is not the staff at the outdoor shelter.
Around 7:50am…I was awakened by a boot nudging my sleeping bag and a man yelling… “Wake up…everyone up…Wake up…everyone up.”
At first, I thought is was Georgia playing a joke on us. He is known to pull pranks on his friends…but as I looked up…it was not Georgia…but 3 police officers in uniform, shorts, and boots. They were not happy to see us…
“Get up…stand up…let me see some ID,” they asked.
I was tired…and moving slowly. It was slightly confusing…but the cops didn’t care. They wanted us up and moving. I thought it might be a dream….but the cold air made it a reality. He kept telling me to move faster….and I told him “I’m moving as fast as I can…”
I got up…showed my ID to my officer, and he pulled me aside and searched my bag. He did not have a warrant…but all he found was a flashlight, underwear, toothbrush, Bible, and a pack of cigarettes. The bag was “clean.” (except the underwear) But the cop found one more thing….
The cop asked me why I had an iPhone as I unlocked it and told him I owned it. He was confused. He asked me, “You can afford an iPhone?…..how?”
“I have a job” I said.
“Where do you work?” he questioned me more…
“I work at a local church near downtown…” I responded.
He was shocked and asked me if I was doing this as ministry….I said to him…”I guess you could say that.” Then the cop took my ID and got my SS# and took it to the make shift command under the bridge where the other cop cars were. The cops were a mixture of bicycle cops (the one’s who grabbed us out of the area along the highway) and patrol cars (the one’s gathering info).
Another cop escorted us out of the bushes and made us stand along the wall….in a line….and wait to be called over to the police car (or interviewed by the main officer).
Here is the strange thing that I did not notice the night before….there were more homeless people sleeping in the bushes (near or under the bridge) than I thought— about 30 in my area. (The police raided the entire I-10 stretch that morning…along with some other smaller bridges…many of my friends got detained by the police that morning.) At my spot, it was like the baseball players coming out of the corn fields in the movie Field of Dreams. (Check out the photo.)
We waited by the wall for quite sometime. One by one we were questioned and given a warning for trespassing. Some people in the bushes were in more trouble than others…(drug use, etc.) …although I saw no one arrested and taken away to jail.
Most of my friends gave the cops fake names and SS#’s because they refused to be searched without a warrant. I gave the cops my ID because they saw my wallet in the sleeping bag…and I had little fear of my police record. The cops took your information and placed you on a city list that shows you have been detained and been given a warning for trespassing. (Although there are no signs and information stating this.)
Trespassing is the crime. It does not hold much water in court. However, many of the homeless cannot afford good lawyers to help them fight the vagueness of the ordinance.
I asked an officer “Who owns the bridge?”….and the cop told me….”The State of Texas.” I thought that was a funny response. I even chuckled at their reasoning of ownership. They also told me “vagrants, the homeless, and bums” cause many problems in this community. It seems so simple….but it’s not. I wanted to tell the cops that their names were actually Georgia, Jesse, Blake, William, Robert, Jackson, Bolton, and Samantha….but I use the same language too. We all do. Dang you, hypocrisy!
Nevertheless, it begs us to question this idea: When we talk about “issues of the streets”….we are talking about problems beyond just homelessness…there are gangs, basic criminals, mailmen, and teenagers on that list too. Most of these citizens have actual homes. They are not always homeless…But who takes most of the heat?
Most of these homeless are just trying to find a place to sleep…with freedom.
They pulled me aside and asked me more about where I lived….(They saw on my ID that I lived only a few blocks away). I don’t know if they believed it…but I was not too concerned about what they thought. I was telling the truth.
After they put me on the “black list,” I was told to pack my things and walk back to the outdoor shelter that is run by the city. I began to wonder…”Was that the main reason for the raid….to get us back in the shelter? Where they can control our actions?
It’s a complex issue.
The cops were tough…but they had grace. Nobody got into too much trouble. (Nevertheless, many of my homeless friends have a much stronger opinion about the matter.) They have good points…but I am still discerning the event that took place Tuesday morning by the I-10 bridge.
If there is a next time…I will be arrested or given a ticket and made to go to court.
Now, off to church…as a pastor working in the same neighborhood where the bridge exists. End of first night under the bridge.
(This issue has been hard to write about…and has taken me a week to put down on paper. And I will most likely make adaptations to it throughout the next few days. This problem of homelessness in cities is multifaceted… Both sides of the argument have good points.
Position A. Homelessness is annoying, unclean, and possibly dangerous. It leads to other civil problems and creates issues for local businesses and tourism. It is not a good “image” for the city. It also is attached to drugs, alcohol, and sex….(but so is High School…but we still have that!)
Position B. Making homelessness a crime on public land goes against basic freedom and liberty. It can be unlawfully inforced and people can be prosecuted with no means to hire good lawyers.
Position C. Is there a more creative way to use the Gospel to handle both A & B?
Questions….please don’t be afraid to post your opinion…. I won’t get my feelings hurt!
I want to hear from YOU! So comment now!!!!!
Main Qurstion ***Why do you think many of the homeless choose to live under bridges or in other places around the city streets?***
1. What do you think of the trespassing law….and how Texas is the “owner” of the land? 2. Why do you think the police are enforcing the “law?” Should they in this way? 3. Why do the police wait until the morning to detain the homeless vs the night before? 4. How has homelessness affected your neighborhood, place of business, and church? 5. Can the police search my bag without a warrent? 6. How do we often direct and control “vagrancy” in our cities? 7. Do you believe the city creates stricter laws if there are non-profits in the city (that reach out to homeless) so they can advance their agenda of redirecting homeless behavior?
The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God.”
Matthew 8:20–“But Jesus said to him: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.’”
Jesus was homeless. At least for three years he had no “home” to speak of… He traveled a lot. Gleaned food from farms and spoke kindly of the poor.
Jesus was homeless.
It was not because he was lazy, mentally ill, crazy, or criminal… He had a calling. To give it all up! To become a man. To experience life with us, who are the lowest of the low compared to his own divinity. Born not in a home…or inn…but a stable.
God became homeless.
Jesus had 12 guys follow him around the land with no real place to lay their heads. These 12 were not the best students in town…but more like the worst. They were Fisherman who could not even cast nets properly….A Tax Collector nobody liked…a zealot…common workers…and a traitor.
They all gave up their jobs (and families) to follow Jesus. They became homeless to follow our Lord… To experience life together… they remained homeless until death. There was no earthly end to their lent. Most, if not all, died as Martyrs.
They should have written a book about it.
Seriously, how would we treat Jesus today? Where would he sleep? Where would he glean? How would he be arrested? Who would get mad at him? Who would come to his aid?
Matthew 25:34-35 “Then the King will say to those at His right, ‘Come, my Father’s blessed ones, receive your inheritance of the Kingdom which has been divinely intended for you ever since the creation of the world. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was homeless, you gave me a welcome.’”
He reminded us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. There is a church who allow people to live in it… now that is hearing and then doing.
My church leaders always say our large building “sits begging” for use most nights. How about allowing people to sleep there who are in need?
There’s tons of space…That goes begging.
Leviticus 19:9-10 “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”
Matthew 12:1 “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them…”
How do we, like the farmers, as blessed people recognize what is enough and give back the remainder?
We need to make more room. Not create less space.
It’s all God’s anyway.
We need to follow Christ. Not just know about Him.
We need to experience life together… Even if that means becoming homeless.
The below reflections from 2012 come from a stretch of nights that were very intense. I remember like it was yesterday. People who are experiencing homeless and living on the streets are extremely vulnerable and face constant abuse, violence and intimidation. The post “Abuse” from 2012 is one of a two part series that ecompasses some of my first days transitioning from life in the shelter and more on the streets of San Antonio.
As a wrote earlier, I am spending the nights of Holy Week 2022 away from my home and reconnecting with the unhoused and marginalized communities. On the third night, I spent some time reconnecting with my good friends Neville and Joe.
Last night, we all met up at Corazon’s weekly recovery circle at Travis Park Church and had dinner. After dinner, I hung out with Neville to catch up and watch a movie we been planning to watch together. Neville has been a client who has seen great transformation with the help from outreach workers from CAM, Corazon, and SAMM. Our original hope was to help Neville return to his home country of Zimbabwe, but his plans were altered after COVID-19 changes in Africa and Neville’s ability to find shelter at a SAMM shelter. Now, Neville is off the street and living safely inside a comfortable room. I will write more about Neville in the weeks to come.
After spending some time with Neville, I walked over to the Riverwalk and found my friend Joe. Joe currently lives on the streets of San Antonio. He is an active member of our Alamo City Street Choirthat meets at Corazon and plays a mean trumpet! He is also an active client in our recovery circle and small groups. Joe is a very loyal man who has a big heart but struggles with addiction. His addictions, like many of our clients, keeps him from proper services and programs. Joe has been on the streets since 2012 (the same year as my 2012 lenten journey – ten years ago). He was 34 when he landed on the streets and has been stuck in a repetitive cycle ever since.
Last night he showed me all the places he stays downtown and we eventually found a spot to sleep near the River. After laying our stuff down, we spent many hours talking about life, addiction, faith, and our families. He told me jokes and made me laugh all night. More seriously, we also spoke about the gaps in the homeless response system and how the system is often set up to fail clients like Joe due to the lack of funding for proper treatment, detox, and recovery. As a non-proft provider, I must do a better job finding the care that will work for people like Joe. He a treasurer in our community and we should cherish his presence and gifts. He is a divine image of God. I have full confidence that he can be transformed if the system was set up in the right way. We have lots of work to do!
Please reflect on these posts from 2012 and remember the difficulties our friends face living on the streets: The old post below may trigger some. It still triggers me to read. I often wonder about Christi and where she is right now. Is she in danger? Is she alive? Is she still on the streets? Im afraid one if not all those things can still be true.
Since returning back from my youth retreat, and during the second part of my journey, I have slept more “on the streets” rather than staying at the outdoor shelter. After weeks at the shelter, I have made really good friends around town…learning from their experiences has made me more educated about the street life and they taught me how to manage my time and decisions.
Life away from the shelter has been a nice change…but also a challenge. The streets are much more difficult to manage and personally control, but the increased freedom is nice. (Although there are limitations to that freedom and liberty depending on city ordinances.)
I have stayed in sheds, barns, and campsites, but until last Monday, I have not fully slept under a city bridge. I needed to experience this for multiple reasons.
After I finished Edison Young Life Club on the South Side of San Antonio, I planned on finding some of my friends who sleep under a bridge near a city park. Sleeping with friends is much safer and informative…
My plan was to walk through the park (near the bridges) around 9:15pm, find my friends, and learn where to stay. In the end, if I could not find them…I would keep walking to the outdoor shelter and make it in before curfew at 10pm.
A full proof plan. Now I had to enact that plan.
I arrived at the park at 9:30pm after checking out a few bridges around the area. No sign of Georgia and my friends.
I had a choice… Go through the park to get to the outdoor shelter or take the main road. (Both ways were paths my friends took before…it was a 50/50 chance to find them.)
Something told me to go into the park…and turn left…so I did.
100 yards into the park, I saw two shadowy figures, who could have been my friends, sitting on a park bench. As I got closer, I realized it was a random boyfriend talking with his girlfriend…but they were not talking…they were arguing.
In fact, they were arguing a lot.
The arguing increased to verbal fighting and right before I could move any closer…the boyfriend spat in the face of his girlfriend and walked away yelling and screaming.
I was frozen. (This all happened within seconds) I said to her silently, “Please don’t chase him or provoke him even more,” but immediately she ran to him, pushed him from behind, and he fell to the ground. Just as I started to get closer to step in…he got up and started punching her multiple times and hitting her over the head with a bottle.
It happened that quickly.
My mind was racing…but all of the sudden I found myself charging the dude and getting ready to take him out. I kept yelling… “Back off!”
Mind you, I never have been in a fight. Not even growing up. When I was a kids, I always hated play fighting or wrestling….I was the kid who always got hurt. But tonight, I was ready to go!
Come what may.
Before I could reach him and take him down…he ran away.
I was surprised. Even impressed. I am not that intimidating.
However, I should not be flattered. Most abusive men are cowards. He was a coward. No room to take on another man…just the woman.
When I approached her, she was crying and badly beaten. I said to her, “you are safe now, you can trust me…I am safe.”
Now, my statement made sense to me…I knew I would not hurt her. Nevertheless, as you might guess, she was not too sure about me…and I don’t blame her.
After some time talking…I told her I was a pastor. “You are?” she asked back.
“Yep, I know it’s crazy…but I really am….and I can help you.”
“That means you were suppose to be right here at this very moment.” she replied.
“That’s what I am afraid of,” I said back in totally honesty, “let’s get you some help.”
She was bleeding from the head quite badly. There was a lot of blood. She was also getting dizzy. So I helped her to the main street and had her sit by a tree.
She debated going to the hospital or to a women’s shelter. It was her choice. I told her I would do exactly want she wanted and sought to find the safest option. But she was hesitant to receive any official help from a shelter or a hospital. She was afraid they would ask more questions at the hospital and get her boyfriend in trouble, but I said they will ask questions anywhere… ( I really didn’t know this…but I was assuming as much without knowing all the facts…)
She eventually chose the hospital. I called my friend Emily to pick us up and take us to the hospital. Emily was gracious and kind to help. I had to pull out my iPhone to call her…and locate exactly where I was standing. Randomly enough, my friends pulled up to me on their bikes to check out all the commotion. They knew who the woman was…and her boyfriend….(actually common law husband they said)… They were gracious to help for a minute, comfort her, and help her get situated in my friends car.
(I was afraid they would be confused about my iPhone…but they have never mentioned it since….I guess it didn’t bother them I had a smartphone or a friend to call who has a nice car…)
Emily and I drove her to the closet hospital in downtown San Antonio. As I checked her in at the ER…I realized the nurses had to assume I might be the abuser…it was an awkward feeling… I have never been treated like an abuser before…it was a strange feeling. It made me think about the men who really treat women in such awful ways….
After a few minutes of observation, the nurses realized I was helping her and assisted her to the ER…so they became more accommodating to my presence.
As we were waiting for her doctor, she told me her life story.
Her name was Christi. She was born in Abilene, Texas. Her father beat her as a child and her mom taught her to sell, cook, and do meth as a teenager. By 16, she had already been raped multiple times, grew accustomed to abusive boyfriends and family members, and learned how to live life on the streets to survive. At 17, Christi left Abilene and began living on and off the streets in South Texas. The drug use intensified, the violence got worse, and she went to jail for cooking and selling Meth—-the trade her mother taught her back in Abilene.
My heart was breaking as she told me her story. All I could do was listen and pray.
My mom was raised in Abilene, TX. Christi and my mom went to the same high school. (Obviously years apart….) My grandfather worked as a pastor and taught in the Bible Department at Abilene Christian University for decades. I went to Abilene almost every year at Christmas and Summer breaks (staying at the Embassy Suites near the mall she would sell most of her drugs) to visit my mom’s parents. I don’t know why I was surprised to hear she was from Abilene…but all I kept thinking about was my mom. She is a woman too…
Also, it was not comforting to know that Christi would most likely go back to the same guy after all of this was over. This broke my heart even more. I wanted to control her decisions for her…. Sure, I was helping for now…but I could not change the entire situation.
The nurses checked her vitals, cleaned her wounds, and a few hours later discharged her back into the streets. The Hospital cared for Christi well…but they have no authority over the abuse… so after the care was completed Emily took her to the indoor shelter where Christi stays most nights.
The time was 11:45pm.
Bad News. I was way past my curfew…so I needed to get back and find my friends. (They were nice enough to point out the general area where they would be sleeping under the bridge when they ran into me and Christi before we went to the hospital.) I was glad Emily was there to take Christi back so I could find my place before the night got even later.
As I walked back to the park…I realized there was a good chance I could run into Christi’s boyfriend or common law husband. So, I prepared for the worst. I didn’t want to see him…but kicking his tail was an emotion that was real inside my soul. It gets ugly out there. Even for a passive pastor.
As I entered the park again (trying to get to the bridge where my friends sleep), I saw a man at the same park bench. I hesitated, backtracked, and tried to discreetly take a different route…but before I could find another way….
The man screamed, “Hey you…yeah you…where the hell do you think your going!”
My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.
Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..
The man screamed, “Hey you…yeah you…where the hell do you think your going!”
My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.
Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..
I was in the thick of it now!
The man kept yelling at me to stop walking away from him. At this point, I really was scared for my safety…so I kept walking away. As I kept walking, he started to run…and for some reason…I didn’t run. When I looked back, I realized there were more people there than just this man…four to be exact, 3 men, 1 woman. They were all intent on talking to me…So, I turned around to face their questions.
As the man approached me, he said, “What were you doing coming into this area and sneaking around all suspicious-like…I have never seen you around here before.” It was then I was almost certain it was not Christi’s boyfriend…but I was not 100% positive…
“Just looking for my friends, Georgia and Jesse” I said back calmly but certain. “They told me to meet them around here for the night…”
The man paused and believed me…”They sleep around here most nights…yes…but why were you looking into our area?”
“I thought you might be them just hanging at the park…and when I realized you were not them…I walked away…no worries man…I am not here to interrupt your night.” I responded while trying to stay cool and collected.
“My name is Cowboy” he aggressively stated. “I can be your best friend…or your worst nightmare…If you don’t cross me….I won’t cross you…I will even give you the shirt off my own back…I can be that good to you…but don’t you ever cross me…got that? This is Jackson, Bolton, and Samantha…they are always here with me…making sure nobody causes trouble or interferes with our business…”
It felt like I was in a bad movie scene…but this conversation was real as can be…
Despite his lecture and my response, Cowboy still didn’t trust me…and was very forceful. So, I resorted to my go to “trick of the trade” when I want to talk to someone I don’t know or calm someone down.
I have learned that if you offer someone on the streets a cigarette…they always accept and friendship can develop…and most of the time calm the person down. It has worked many times for me over the past 38 days.
I know…it’s crazy. I don’t even smoke…
A youth pastor passing out tobacco. I might get fired! Well…
I’m not that worried about what my church will think. I work at a church that still allows it’s staff to smoke outside on campus. There is even a large plastic cigarette container outside our youth ministry entrance for employees to take a smoke break. I even went to a University and Divinity School that was funded by the largest tobacco estate in the nation. Duke….who owned American Tobacco… Mr. Duke and I helped fund one of the largest church movements in the nation!
Cigarettes cause major problems…and I find it disgusting. They are also very expensive. Most people on the street don’t buy Marlboro Reds…but they buy the cheap brands at the bottom of the gas station shelf.
After I passed out my cigarettes…small changes took place in our conversation. The talk became calm and friendly. After the break, they helped me find my friends…and even said they would take me to Church Under the Bridge the next night to get some good food.
It’s amazing how something as simple as a smoke…can change someone’s attitude from rage to relaxed and calm.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”(The Message)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)
For the first three weeks of my Lenten journey of homelessness, I gave up my iPhone for a simple Go Phone. No data plan. No Internet. No google maps. No ESPN updates. No Facebook. No tweets.
The main reason I gave up my smartphone was for safety. I did not want to get jumped over a phone…. (However its amazing how many homeless people have Go Phones…even prepaid Smartphones.)
Giving up this idol was a much harder thing to do than I anticipated. I could not check Duke games. I could not find the VIA bus schedule online. I could not check my email away from work. It was like going to drug rehab…I was away from my usual fix!
I was very disconnected from my usual plug of information.
It amazing how our society is addicted to connectivity..To massive information…To data…To instant communication.
At first, I thought not having my phone would be less stressful…but not having it made me more stressed?
When I went on our youth groups Spring retreat to St. Louis, I needed my iPhone back so I could communicate properly with my church and parents. I even used it to drive around St. Louis.
I had my drug back. It felt amazing! But…also sad. I was getting used to not emailing my work after working hours. It was beginning to become peaceful. That feeling was gone now. I had my iPhone back…back to the life of information overload.
When I returned to my journey 4 days later, I kept my phone. I needed to take photos and document some of my journey through live blogging. It has been really helpful. I got some amazing pictures and stories.
However, during Holy Week after Maundy Thursday I am limiting my iPhone use for the last days of my journey. I need to take a step back and fully reenter the disconnected life.
I don’t know…but Easter is just around the corner.
Back to 2022: Here is a fun video of the Alamo Street Choir:
In 2019 Travis Park opened its doors to help in the similar way and now our church and Corazon San Antonio is doing it again along with IWC, Catholic Charities, and The City of San Antonio. Currently, these families and individuals are waiting for transportation to their host cities. ICE and Border Patrol have granted them temporary asylum but they have no money to get to their host city, court date, or where their families often reside. They are temporarily stuck in San Antonio with little resources or clear direction. I will have more to say on this after Holy Week. However, I want to reflect on how it might relate to my journey in 2012.
The migrants who are seeking asylum are amazing people fleeing violence and seeking a better life. They are noble people who give me much hope and very little fear. You can read what I learned about this in 2018 when I traveled with the migrant caravan and met some amazing people who taught me so much!
Here is my statement about the shelter in 2019 where we help shelter over 22,000 people in about 8 months:
“Getting to shelter, serve and walk alongside our migrant brothers and sisters has not only been a blessing for our church, volunteers, and workers but also a practice of solidarity, love, and hospitality. We had the opportunity to serve and it was worth every long night and day. Our migrant friends and families added so much to our community with their presence, love, and testimonies. They are heroes.
Travis Park Church has been serving the homeless for more than 20 years and has opened its doors to migrants including citizens fleeing internment during WWII. It’s been in our DNA for almost 175 years. It says in our scriptures that we should “defend the cause of the fatherless and the widow” and “love the foreigner residing among us, giving them food and clothing…for we ourselves were once foreigners.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) We just follow our faith and do as best to treat everyone with dignity and treat everyone like they were “native born.” (Leviticus 19:33)
One night in mid-March we got a call from volunteers at the bus station. They were being overwhelmed by an influx of migrants who needed a place to sleep. So we did what is took to open up our building, put our hurricane cots up and started the temporary shelter.
If the City, nonprofits and churches failed to unite then we would have had thousands of families on the streets of San Antonio over just a few weeks. Our faith calls us to open up and be hospitable and loving to all. There was never was an option not to serve our neighbors.
We could not have opened our doors to more than 22,400 migrants alone. It took working with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, Catholic Charities, the Food Bank, other churches, and especially the City of San Antonio to pull this off each and every night. Not only did we serve migrants but we also kept serving more than 600 homeless neighbors each week.
It took hundreds of people to serve this great need. It was amazing to be a small part of it. We want to thank all of our volunteers, workers and donors who made this all possible. We especially thank Dr. Colleen Bridger, Melody Woosley, Edward Gonzales, Jessica Dovalina, Marc Wonder, Tino Gallegos and everyone at the Department of Human Services and the City for helping support this mission.
In 2012, I reflected on how many who are marginalized or unhoused seek temporary work survive and spent a day at a temp facility in San Antonio. It was eye opening, very hard and frustrating. However, this is also true for many of my migrant siblings. They too are seeking to live free in the USA to find work, provide for their family, and contribute to our society. But the cards are stacked against them. Jesus had a lot to say how we should treat workers. So did his brother James.
In the blog below I also reflect on children who are experiencing homelessness and also reflect on the roll of the church. All which I am experiencing this evening as I type this post.
I have added the 2012 posts from Days 27-30 in a slightly different order to help with flow and theme. Please enjoy this past reflection and the scriptures that relate.
It has been hard trying to live on 10 dollars a day. No movies, no iTunes downloads, no dessert with meals, very little food (unless given to me or paid for by loving people…), no quick purchases in line at a store, and no Starbucks.
However, yesterday, I was having the urge to get a large meal and have some extra cash…so I got a job and made some money.
Many people at the Outdoor Shelter have talked about working for temp agencies around town. One is called “iWorks,” and another is called “Pacesetters.” These agencies provide jobs for homeless citizens (and other people) in need of a temporary job for a day. The jobs can include working at a construction site, a bakery, the AT&T Center, or a local vegetable/fruit processing plant. Many of the homeless have a hard time keeping a full time job, so the temp agency is the best option for employment when the timing is right in his or her life.
I decided to go through iWorks. I worked at the vegetable and fruit processing plant called, Fresh from Texas, in San Antonio. Fresh from Texas provides HEB, Wal-Mart, local schools, and other grocery stores with almost all of their pre-cut and prepared vegetable and fruit products. They produce such items as fruit and vegetable trays, sliced fruit, mixed fruit, cut strawberries, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed bell peppers, shish-k-bobs, fajita ingredients, pico de gallo, chopped onions, diced celery, cut cilantro, and bagged carrots, and the list can go on. They do a lot! Therefore, they need a lot of help to keep the 24/7 factory operating and cranking out packaged foods.
To get a temporary job through iWorks, you must arrive and place your name on a list before the workday begins. They open at 4am…so you need to get there early to get a spot in line on your specific workday. There are 3 shifts. Shift 1: 5:00am to 3:30pm. Shift 2: 7:30am to 5:00pm. Shift 3: 1:30pm-Midnight. Regardless of which shift you are assigned…you still need to get there at 4am in order to sign up for most normal working days.
I was hoping to work the #1 shift so I would not have to wait in the temp office (without pay) until the #2 shift began. So…I arrived at the office at 3:30am. Only 7 people were in line…..I was set to go! When the office opened at 4am, there were already 40 people waiting behind me outside. It reminded me of a Duke Basketball Ticket line…Or…more like those famous photos during the Great Depression where people would line up in cues for employment opportunities. Despite our lacking economy, I was surprised to see so many people in line and eager (even pushy) to stand in line in order to work for minimum wage.
When the doors opened, we all rushed the counter and put our names on the attendance sheet. I was number 8. Someone cut in front of me…but I let it slide. (Getting in a fight is not on my bucket list!) After everyone was signed in, the lady working the counter called the names for Shift #1. There were 20 spots available. I was excited to start! After 20 names were called…I realized I was not one of them! What!? Something went wrong…I was kinda mad along with the other people in the room who got there at 3:30am! Apparently, if you worked the day before, you get your first choice of shift…regardless of where your name is on the list. It kind of made sense…it was like the Duke Basketball seating…the committee gets the best seats!
The lady started calling for shift #2. If your name was called, you had to wait in the office for 2.5 hours before the vans took you to the factory. They had only 15 spots available. I knew I would make it…I was there at 3:30! Name #1 was called, then #2, and 3, and 4, and 5, and 6, ….and 11, and 12, and 13…
#14…..”Gavin Rogers….” Holy cow…I made it! I was praying really hard…. because I really did not want Shift #3 starting a 1:30pm!
After shift #1 left on the vans…all 15 of us waited for our rides at 7am. We just sat there in the cold, empty, and run down office on West Ave. We were assigned our hard helmet and rubber boots. If you don’t bring them back…you don’t get paid.
We were set to make $7.25 an hour. Minimum wage.
7am arrived…and I took the shuttle van over to the Fresh from Texas factory near MacArthur High School. It felt strange to be so close to one of the high schools in town…I know that some of my students attend school there….but it felt so far removed. It seemed like I was in a foreign place…an unknown land for this “Woodlands Boy.”
We arrived at our locker room and put on our other mandatory sanitation uniform. A hair net, mouth cover, plastic gloves, plastic sleeves, and plastic apron. I looked like a surgeon in a bad horror movie….only a lot more tired…I had already been up for 4 hours…but still not started my shift.
We were called into the factory. It was 41 degrees inside!
What? Nobody told me that! I only had on a sweatshirt. Others (I came to find out) brought jackets, gloves, and even long johns. I began to get worried I would not make it for the full 9 hour shift! (If you leave early…you don’t get paid.) The large factory had multiple large refrigerated rooms for the assembly lines. The floor was wet and slippery, (which is sprayed with foam every few minutes so the floor is somewhat sanitary). The place seemed kind of unsafe…came to find out..it is very unsafe.
According to Workplace Weekly, Fresh from Texas was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “with eight serious violations for exposing workers to numerous electrical hazards at the company’s facility in San Antonio, as well as two other-than-serious violations for inadequate record keeping. Proposed penalties total $40,500.” (February 2012)
Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in San Antonio said, “Electrical hazards can lead to the loss of a worker’s life by electrocution. OSHA will not tolerate an employer failing to take responsibility for keeping the workplace safe.” I came to find out, there were even some protests by employees.
Places like this, and the management, are not too concerned about their workers. They are more concerned about the work and movement of product. It’s a sad place to work in someways…but people make the best of it.
Read James 5. How are we still like the people James speaks about in the last chapter of his letter?
The Administration has claimed to fix all the safety violations, so I felt real safe. The administration never lies! Right?
Once inside, I was assigned to the bell pepper assembly line. There were tons of bell peppers in boxes. We were to get the bell peppers, soak them in water, place them on the line, cut them into squares, and sort out the scraps into 3 barrels. 1st barrel was for the cut squares, 2 barrel was for the usable scraps, and the 3rd barrel for unusable scraps. We were set to go!
Wait…but come to find out…we had to take the stickers off all the bell peppers before we began. The fun had to wait. For one hour, all 9 of us in line had to peel off those tiny little stickers off of each pepper…you know, like in the grocery store. A friend made the joke, “What is ironic…some fool got paid minimum wage to put the stickers on…and we are now getting paid to take them off!” I started to laugh..and wonder…that was probably a true statement.
My hands started to get numb.
After most of the stickers were removed, we got into 2 groups. One line for green peppers. One line for red peppers. One person to keep removing stickers….I really did not want to be the sticker man…so I headed as quickly as I could to one of the choppers for the peppers on the assembly line.
After a 3 minute tutorial, we started up the assembly line belt. It went fast. It was hard to keep up! I had one hand on the giant (and sharp) chopper and one hand grabbing and splitting peppers. I was truly afraid I would chop a finger off…the thing was really sharp and hard to control. All of us struggled at first….but after about 30 minutes and hundreds of peppers later we were finding our rhythm and fine tuning our pace. We were even bonding as fellow workers. It was kind of fun…despite the conditions.
There was Bruce (next to me) sorting out my cut peppers. He was 45 years old and was released from prison 3 days ago in Houston. He was in prison over 5 years…not including a previous time in jail…in the Texas Penitentiary in Beaumont. He was arrested as part of the “Tommy Hilfiger” gang. The gang would steal designer clothes from malls and department stores and take them to Mexico to sell in the markets. Eventually, they were caught and sent to jail.
There was David cutting peppers across from me. He had a construction job during the week…but used the temp agency during the weekend to get extra money. He had a girlfriend,who he said…”was very expensive.”
There was Mario sorting peppers next to Bruce. He was a 65 year old Mexican man who only spoke Spanish. He really struggled with the speed and was eventually let go by my supervisor after putting wrong scraps in the barrels. It really made me sad….but fortunately, he was able to work in the grape line…where it is much slower and relaxed. Heck, you can even eat the grapes!
After 3 hours of working…my arms were numb…and I had a huge headache. It was 10:30am…time for lunch…and what would be our only break for the day! I went into the work room…ate a cold bean and cheese taco…and slept for 30 mins.
11:15am. Back to work…Until the end of our shift… No breaks.
This time…I was put on the sorting line…which seems a lot easier than cutting. However…it was much harder to do. The belt went too fast. I started to put the wrong scraps into the barrels. I was afraid I was going to get the “boot” like Mario. However…I got the pattern down just enough to keep my job. Hours later…the new wore off, and I started to hurt all over. I was freezing cold, my back hurt from standing in the same position, my neck hurt from looking down at the assembly line, and my head hurt from thinking about sorting the correct peppers. 3 more hours of work to go…
I was going crazy.
The next 2 hours, I prayed to make it through my shift. I buckled down and worked faster to keep myself active and warm. Toward the end, we got sloppy. Bruce started to get distracted by the girls chopping cantaloupe near us…and stuff started to fall off the assembly line. We were done. The supervisor called it a day. It was 4pm! We got out early.
Bad news. iWork does not take you back to the office to get paid before the office closes at 6pm. You had to find a ride or take the bus.
I took the bus as far as I could…then a friend took me to the office to get my check. It was 6pm now. If you count the 4 hours before my shift…I spent 6 hours trying to get a job and get paid minimum wage.
Temp agencies are good places to find work, but they are a huge waste of time. They might serve a purpose…and try too.
I got paid 47.50 after taxes and agency fees.
If you count the hours at the Temp Agency and getting back. I made $3.60 an hour.
But it was money!
I bought 2 hot dogs, a chocolate shake, nachos, and drinks that night. I was full…and have much of my money left over.
That night, I attended a mission trip planning meeting. By 9pm…I was spent…Went to bed in the barn.
William was missing. I had to be at church at 7:30am. I did not wait for William to get back.
A Story About Workers (It’s good to know they had temp workers in the Bible…I Truly relate to these men today…)
“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.
“Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.
“He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?’
“They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“He told them to go to work in his vineyard.
When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’
“Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’
“He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’
“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”
According to our facts, on any given night there will be roughly 1600 individuals residing in my shelter (both indoors and outdoors). That’s a large community!
Between 3,500 and 4,500 individuals experience homelessness each night in San Antonio. So around 1000-2000 are without assistance.
As a Minister to Youth and their families, (and one of the main reasons I am on this journey)…here is the alarming fact:
Over 25% of the homeless are children and teenagers, half of which are under age 5. To add to the problem….Family homelessness in Texas has increased 15.9% since 2008.
(Each year, 25,000 people in San Antonio experience homelessness in some form or fashion.)
Due to the fact that I have been staying in an adult outdoor shelter or in an abandoned barn, I have not experienced many situations with homeless children.
However, the other night…I experienced children serving homeless adults under the 9th Street/281 bridge near downtown. The ministry is called Taking it to the Streets.
Taking it to the Streets is an ecumenical ministry based out of Boerne, TX and led by a church called “Nineteen:Ten“. Every Friday night, they meet under the 9th Street Bridge in Downtown San Antonio and serve homeless citizens meals, clothes, and a loving community. (Go to their website and you can volunteer your church to serve one week!)
The other night, the good people from nineteen:ten and other volunteers helped serve food and pass out bibles. (Even ran into some youth from my former church, UUMC.)
Here is the crazy thing….young kids from their children’s ministry were the ones walking around, talking with the homeless, and passing out water, bibles, and devotionals.
The adults and teenagers were behind the table serving the food and clothes…and their kids (4-6 years old) were evangelizing. (The parents were following their kids at a distance…but it was crowded.)
I was fascinated.
Why would a parent allow their kids to interact so freely with the homeless? Don’t they know the dangers? These people could present harm to their kids….or produce fear within them.
I don’t know what my church would do? I know there would be a lot of paperwork involved.
Here is the great thing about what I saw….
It was obvious the kids understood that they were serving people in need…and they were excited to serve by the looks on their faces and their eagerness to help. I am sure they understood the ” simple gesture “of passing out water and Bibles. Thought: “Simple Gestures (done in Love) are a vocabulary without words.”
Observing them…I could tell they had very little (or no) prejudice or stereotyped opinions about the homeless. They were treating them like everyone else! During the whole night, they treated everyone equally ..and with the same amount of love and joy.
Adults and teenagers have trouble with this concept. (It takes a lot of effort to drop our strerotypes.) Sure, adults were serving…but too often, adults can exude a self-righteous attitude when they serve the poor. I know I can. Regardless of our good intentions….that old weakness can sneak up on us and shine through the cracks in our surface!
It’s us and them. The rich helping the poor. The “blessed”and the “not so blessed.” The better and the worse. The givers and the takers. The volunteers and the homeless.
Adults create divisions…even in how we speak and serve.
These children didn’t grapple with this problem. They served as equals.
Maybe this is why Jesus called us in Mark 9&10 “to have the faith of a child.” A faith eager to serve, live equally, experience wonder, and trust when many people say its foolish to trust…especially when we perceive possible danger.
It is foolish…but God desires that type of faith. 1 Cor. 1:27
If we minister in a fearless Faith…we can participate in the Kingdom of God…and experience the true Love of God in all that we do… Regardless of who’s got the money.
The Lord calls us to practice it! Church is all about practicing God’s love. It’s a consent pursuit until God returns.
Just the other night, I saw the children from Boerne experiencing a taste of God’s Kingdom under the 9th street bridge….Calling each of us to practice living out Love in our own lives.
It was a beautiful picture of Christ. In the form of a small Child.
Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf[h] welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them
I attend and minister at a really nice church. We have a gorgeous sanctuary, an education building, a children’s center, a creative life center, a community center, a coffee shop, a women’s shelter, and YMCA…
We are beyond blessed. Sometimes we forget how blessed we are.
Recently when our youth group was in St. Louis, we drove past a part of town that was totally abandoned. Blocks upon blocks were empty, houses were destroyed and abandoned, and businesses and churches shut down. The area looked like a town after the Second World War. It was an astonishing site to see.
Somewhere on Salisbury Street, we drove past a large beautiful cathedral…About the same size as our church. It was massive. However, when we took a closer look at the church, we realized it was shut down and destroyed.
Honestly, it seemed as if it was bombed in a war.There were holes in the roof, the stained glass windows were shatterd and broken, and the walls were crumbling. How could this be? This place was once a thriving place of worship. No, it’s nothing but ruins in a dead part of the city? Were we in St. Louis or Rome?
What is church?
A few weeks ago, I blogged about how a terrible storm went through South Texas and the San Antonio Region. I wrote about the experience in the blog called “Storm.” As I mentioned in the blog, a tornado touched down in Divine, TX and destroyed many houses and buildings (including one of our custodial workers sister’s home.) The tornado also destroyed a local church. The church is called Faith Tabernacle Full Gospel Church.
Here is a picture of them worshiping this past Sunday morning…standing on the foundation after the debris was cleared away.
They have no building to go to…but they are still worshiping the God they Love!
Similar to my friends at Church Under The Bridge in Waco, Texas….they have no building…but that does not stop them from worshiping the Lord under a bridge. Only difference….My friends in Waco don’t even desire a building!
Here are four churches I have observed during lent…
One has a huge facility for thousands …and has only hundreds attend. One has a beautiful cathedral that has been abandoned…no one to worship. One has no building…but has plenty of people to attend. One has no desire for a building and meets under a bridge with many…..Worshipers.
What is church?
How do we balance our material desires over and above the importance of authentic worship?
Since my experience has started…I have realized that to receive aid as a homeless person (from a government run shelter), you have to go through a lot of red tape.
Red Tape is not surprising in some ways. I assume many of the rules and regulations they have in place are there for good reason…for safety, organization, control, and law enforcement. Rules are good. Moses had the 10 commandments. (And hundreds of other Mosaic Laws in addition too…)
However, there are some pieces of red tape that drive many of my homeless friends crazy, and keep them from entering places that can truly help them. Before you read this…I’m not saying the rules are bad or evil. Just observing the feelings of others here at the shelter.
Here are some rules: (Some rules are obvious…but just listing them….)
1. You cannot bring food into the outdoor homeless shelter. 2. No medicine is allowed to be taken without supervision…even if you are over 18. 3. No unopened drinks or canned drinks allowed. 4. No doors on bathroom stalls. 5. Sleeping Mats are taken up at 6:30am…and passed out at 9pm. (Only at those hours) 6. All bags must be searched before entering. 7. Outdoor Area gate closes at 10pm. 8. No Drugs or Alcohol. 9. Men and Women have separate sleeping areas outside. (Even if you are married.) 10. Can’t be drunk or high….and enter the shelter. 11. Laundry is allowed…must sign up at 4am.
When I returned to the Outdoor Shelter last night, I experienced a different atmosphere than before.
People were mad.
Apparently since I have been with William in his shed…the staff at the outdoor shelter has changed some rules in order to live in the outdoor area.
People here frequently say that the staff changes the rules all the time with no rhyme or reason. I bet that’s not totally true…but it appears that way to the residents. Here is what they are saying….
First change: to get a mat to sleep on at night you must now turn in your ID Card. This seems reasonable to me, but according to my friends, it is a huge disaster in the morning. At 6:30am, you have hundreds of people in line to get IDs back….so now, if you are going to work, you have to get up even earlier to miss the crowd so you are not late to work. It seems simple, but when you are out here living this way…it’s a big “pain in the rear.” (Before …you just had to return the mat back to the storage area…and because there was not a card return…it went super quick and efficiently.) FYI. If you lose (or they lose) your ID card…2 hours of community service is required to get a new one.
Second change: Starting tomorrow, residents cannot leave their belongings covered by tarps in the courtyard. They must store all there things in bins (which are nice and waterproof…I was impressed by the quality). Here is the Bad news. The storage bin area is only unlocked at certain times. If you work at odd hours or miss the timing, your things might get really wet…unless you take everything with you. Who takes everything they have to work? (Before now, you were allowed to cover your bags and belongings in tarps or bags so they would stay dry.)
Now, I don’t know the real reasons behind the changes. They might be good reasons. However, if it’s anything like the government (the outdoor shelter is county run), there is a good possibility that the people making the decisions are so far removed from the reality…and/or from the people they affect..that they have no idea of the difficult challenges they have created for the people effected. Instead, changes have been implemented that fail to be positive…nor do they work smoothly for everyone’s benefit.
Too much Red Tape? Is this why William sleeps in a barn?
I don’t know…but the answer is Not Simple…On both sides of the argument.
Thank God because he’s good, because his love never quits. Tell the world, Israel, “His love never quits.” And you, clan of Aaron, tell the world, “His love never quits.” And you who fear God, join in, “His love never quits.” (The Message) HIS LOVE NEVER QUITS!
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.
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?
Probably not. 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.
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?
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)
As I confessed earlier in this blog, I learned in 2012 that Lent was 48 days if you include Sundays. My goal was to make 40 days without my house, so I had a few days to “take off” and lead a mission trip that I was scheduled to lead. (About half way through my lenten journey I led a mission trip for my youth group where we took a train to St. Louis.) During this stretch of my 2012 blog, I reflect on that trip. I also had my friend Rev. Dr. Bryan Fillette write a few days about his time living on the streets with me a week before when we both lived at Haven for Hope. Bryan and I went to Duke Divinity School together but he ended up going to medical school after seminary and became a medical doctor. He now practices in Louisiana.
I really appreciate his reflections about how he felt like he lost his identity while seeking to go the shelter (I had a similar feeling when I began) and how he felt very separated from loved ones. Its very much worth a re-read! Please enjoy these reflections from 2012.
Hello. I’m Bryan, a friend of Gavin’s and since Gavin is on his retreat he asked me to post some thoughts for a few days. I went two weeks ago to San Antonio and spent two cold nights with him at the outdoor shelter. I parked my car at his house and, dressed in old jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, I began walking several blocks to the bus stop to go meet him at the shelter.
Walking away from my car, I felt stripped of my identity as a car-owning, house-renting, working individual. I tried to imagine what this identity shift would be like if it really occurred, how I might be perceived differently by those driving by and others I might encounter, and imagine possibly what it might feel like to be homeless.
First, I felt shut out. Numerous restaurants and storefronts along the way had “OPEN” signs in the window. Having money is a rite of passage into these buildings and knowing how unwelcome the homeless are in places of business , the storefront may as well have read “CLOSED.”
Getting onto the bus, I needed to ask where the shelter’s stop was, but surprisingly I found myself a little embarrassed to ask. I figured the young middle-class-appearing bus driver might see me as homeless, judge me for that, and make assumptions about who I am and how I got to that point in my life. It was quite striking how easily people’s perception of you can change and what assumptions people could make about your background and identity just thinking you are homeless.
I saw Methodist hospital just a few blocks away, and was comforted by its appearance initially. The church-affiliated hospital stood out as a place of welcome and comfort as I reflected on all that the cross on the building represented about God’s love and care for the disenfranchised and those at the margins of our communities. It was a warm and inviting aura given off by the building’s facade. Later that night I saw another church-affiliated hospital and a couple of churches. Each building spoke a word of welcome and acceptance indifferent to my status in life. But I also knew that while hospitals do a fair amount of charity care, non-funded patients are often less welcome in private hospitals, and I felt like my presence there was not welcome. Two days before that I was an employee working in Methodist hospital in Houston, and now it might be looked down upon if I entered the hospital for a bathroom break or some brief warmth in the cold night. Seeing the churches, I knew that despite the warm welcome the church façade was exuding, too often those who are homeless are not welcomed with open arms and feel unwelcome in our churches. While these cold stone façades communicated surprising warmth, I was sad that the warm bodies within the buildings often don’t communicate the same welcome. How easily one’s status and identity can change by virtue of not having a place to call home.
Lying on my mat that first evening, I thought of my family and friends. Doing my best to imagine what it would be like if I were actually homeless, I was struck by how separated I was from my loved ones. They carry on with their lives, working, living indoors, connected to their family and friends. Immediate barriers of social convention now in place (unshowered, no home to show for yourself, the shame of being homeless). And not only do you likely not see your family and friends, but also many are likely left with regrets or painful memories of how they came to be separated from their families. Divorce, domestic abuse, drugs, alcohol, rejection, being disowned, being given up on. Many homeless individuals speak of having children or siblings they are no longer in contact with or do not get along with. Yes, it’s uncomfortable sleeping outside, but worse I would think is the feeling of being outside of the connections that were once central to your life, left with regrets of mishandling situations and the pain of rejection. The continued message from someone once called a friend, now implicitly saying by their absence, “I don’t want you around me.”
Our mutual friend Stacy is a hospital chaplain who also volunteers with an organization called the Ignatian Spirituality Project www.ignatianspiritualityproject.org. They take small groups of homeless individuals on weekend retreats offering a supportive and spiritually enriching community of friends. I feel this gesture of hospitality and presence, setting aside intentional time with those often set apart from our society is beautiful. I was telling Stacy about my reflections above and she noted that in the sharing time on their retreats, the women speak of the many difficulties of being homeless, but the real pain is almost always about broken relationships and separation from loved ones. This is where the heart of their pain is, the time in their stories when the tears come to the surface. Take my bed, my money, a warm room to stay in, my shower, my job, but my family? Those dearest to me? Don’t take them.
Oftentimes we have questions of how to interact with “the homeless” who we see on the street corner. We are unsure what we can do for them, or if we are safe. They seem so different at face value. Yet something in us also seeks a more genuine interaction with them, saddened by the barriers that crop up between us and hinder the loving response we desire deep within to offer.
At the church I go to in Houston, St. Paul’s United Methodist, each Sunday about 70 individuals come to get sack lunches from the Emergency Aid Coalition. On weekdays about 300-400 come by on a given day for lunch. They pass through our parking lot and receive a lunch passed through a window on the back of the building in our parking lot. The gift of food is wonderful but the lack of interaction we had with those who came by saddened me.
Out of a sense of the importance of extending hospitality to others, particularly those who are often isolated or forgotten in our society, we started to make simple gestures to move beyond the barriers that prevent us from being together. About two years ago, we began setting out tables and chairs and bringing coffee outside to those who come by for lunches. We simply go out there and visit, just taking the time to be present. At first unsure what to talk about, aware of the differences between us on the surface, we simply seek to be there and to get to know one another beyond what’s on the surface. We talk about where we’re from, the weather, politics, sports, local events, treasured memories, difficulties over the week. When we tend to assume that we are so different from those who are homeless and would have nothing to talk about, we instead find a common ground. We discover a beauty we often miss when barriers of practicality and fear get in the way of getting to know one another.
Our conversations are nothing dramatic, but the time can be eye-opening as we begin to know “the homeless” as individuals, by their names, by their stories, their sense of humor, their emotions, and our shared humanity and vulnerabilities. Time after time, one can be pleasantly and beautifully surprised that while we often may think that what is important is what WE have to offer, we come to see that we are the ones who stand to receive something, who are in need of something. I remember what Sam Wells, the former dean of the Duke Chapel once said, “To say to someone ‘I want to be with you’ is to say ‘When I’m with you I feel in touch with myself, in touch with what it means to be a human being among others, in touch with creation, in touch with God.’” We discover a common ground, and it doesn’t take much for strangers to become your friends.
…Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world….
…Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business….
…Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. ..
….What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead….
…Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!..
Here are a few reflections about the mission trip with Trinity Baptist Youth Group:
I am about to start my youth retreat with my students. We are going to St. Louis on a Discipleship Retreat via an Amtrak train. The trip is called,”Soul Train.” We will be going over the book of James. (Remember that Lent is 46 days…I am using 5 days for this retreat…see post “46”)
James was Jesus’ little brother….that had to be a strange experience to have Jesus as your brother. Talk about pressure. Nonetheless, James learned to trust his older brother in due time, and later became a leader of the early church.
James was all about an active faith. A faith that was not stale and static. A faith that experienced God’s love and expressed it through dynamic acts of mercy.
While on this trip, my posts will be shorter as I reflect on the simple aspects of my journey. (I will also have my friend, Bryan Fillette, reflect on his experience being homeless with me for 2 days). He is an MD and a Reverend….so it should be interesting.
At the Outdoor Shelter, everyone who stays there can receive a mat from the shelter at 9pm sharp. Don’t be late! They can run out on certain nights…and sleeping well is important.
Trust me. You want a mat! If you miss out, you will be sleeping on the hard cement with little padding other than a blanket or sheet.
When I first arrived at the outdoor shelter, I assumed the mats would be like yoga mats. Thin, durable, and not too comfortable. However, the mats for the homeless are not that bad. They are about 4 inches thick, made of foam, and covered in a black vinyl covering that keeps it sanitary. They are not too far off from mats you see at summer camps. (The plastic ones that fit on bunk beds.)
At the shelter, these mats are lifesavers. You really can sleep a lot better when you have one for the night. I have never been so grateful for 4 inches of foam before this journey…but in the shelter, you begin to appreciate the little things.
The only down side is that the staff pick up the mats at 6:30 in the morning, regardless of whether you have work or not. “Sleeping In” is rare at the shelter. They say they want the mats back to begin the process of cleaning them…but I believe the real reason is to get us up…motivating us to work and not sleep the day away. (You can keep the mats 24/7, if you have a medical exemption.) Maybe I need to get sick more…
The mats remind me of John 5…
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well
It was simple. All the man had to do was take up his mat…Jesus did the rest. I like that. At my church, we make it a lot more difficult to follow Jesus. Just look at all the committees we have. It’s not a simple process at all.
But following Jesus can be that simple. It is sometimes as simple as picking up your mat and trusting in Him even if the future is unknown. It’s simple…but it takes a lot of faith.
Many of my homeless friends have unknown futures. Hopefully, they can learn to pick up their mats and trust in God.
Maybe that’s why the staff gets us up at 6:30am…at takes up our mats.
For the past 3 weeks trains have been my enemy. It was an unexpected aspect of my journey but I now despise trains, the horn sound, and the screeching of the carts when they pass by. (The sound is similar to a ironing board opening…but just louder and longer.)
Needless to say, trains make awful noise.
The outdoor shelter I sleep at most nights is located between 2 merging train tracks. (I literally sleep about 50 feet away from the tracks.) There is one track on the left side of the shelter and one on the right. You could not get any closer unless you slept on the tracks!
The trains come every 30-60 minutes all night long. In all directions. So it can get quite noisy. Have I mentioned that?
When traveling near the shelter the trains have to blow their horns often and for a long period of time because many of the homeless citizens hang out on the tracks and cause great danger. Since the shelter opened there has been more than one instance where someone was hit and killed by the train. The last being on Christmas Day. It’s quite a problem regardless of the noise pollution.
I wake up (along with most homeless residents) every time a train passes by the shelter. The horn sound is so loud you just fly off your mat when the train goes by and the conductor lays on the horn. It feels like the Rapture comes every 30 mins at the shelter. But I keep being left behind.
Ironically, for our church youth group’s Spring Break trip, we decided to take the Amtrak train from San Antonio to St. Louis. (The same train that passes by the shelter every night at 9:30pm.)
It’s funny. In just one day I went from hating that train to passenger on the train!
One thing remained. The noise. The horn went off all night. And the screeching wouldn’t stop. But it was good to be inside the train and be with my students. We were in this together! (Along with Taddy, Debbie, and Laurie)
I guess I am connected to Trains this Lenten season.
My youth group is called Pulse Students. I love that name but I can’t take any credit for it. The previous Minister to Youth, Nils Smith, named it when he began serving his call at Trinity Baptist. Nils is one of the most talented youth leaders I know. He is now doing tremendous work at Community Bible Church leading their online ministry and helping facilitate the largest college ministry in the city. Which is ironic…but that’s another story.
A few years back, Nils knew exactly what he was doing when he named our group “Pulse Students.” When he arrived this program needed a heartbeat. It needed a pulse that would beat not only for God but for other people around the city and the world.
For years (after Trinity lost a major leader), Trinity began to neglect the real needs and issues of our youth and young families. Years later this pattern led to confusion, anger, hurt, slander, and lack of trust within our church walls. It was a mess. So people started to point fingers and began to solve problems on their own…but they kept failing. In the end:
We desperately needed God. Not Ourselves.
Not a better pastor. Not a better staff. Not a better vision statement. Not a better trustee. Not a better committee, and Not a better financial plan. No. These kids and parents desperately needed to regain their pulse for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They needed a pulse for: Their friends. Their enemies. Their neighbors.
Rebuilding the youth program has been a challenge here at TBC. After many years of effort, it is still under construction. Nevertheless, I love it when my kids live out the gospel and get it right. I know they get it right when they put God First, Others Second, and theirselves Third.
Leading a youth retreat (during the exact half way point of my Lenten journey) has been truly enlightening. For the past 4 days, I have been on what we call our “Soul Train” Discipleship Weekend. Despite the obvious change in environment…I have experienced similar events on this trip that resemble my current homeless simulation. It has been strangely familiar.
First, we went on a train trip from San Antonio to St. Louis. Trains have been a theme during this journey. (See my post called “Trains.” And…FYI St. Louis might be my new favorite city. The City Museum is absolutely amazing!) Second, there has been similar communal living on this trip like in the shelter. Albeit, it has been indoors…but living with teenagers in tight quarters can be just as challenging and smelly. Third, I have not gotten a lot of sleep on this trip or during my journey, but I usually don’t sleep much during youth events that I lead…so that “no sleep sting” is still in my body. Fourth, students are just as crazy and messed up as many of the homeless. They struggle with grasping true reality, common drive, similar addictions, and the ability to lose all control of their emotions. The list could go on….
And lastly, while on this trip, the mission ministry to the disenfranchised has been very similar. A topic that has been obviously on my mind the past 3 weeks. It was fun to watch them dive into this type of ministry.
During our first day of service, our students served at the Community Care Center in Granite City, IL. The center is a United Way project that serves the citizens in need in the industrial region of far east St. Louis. It’s a soup kitchen, clothing store, and food bank…all in one. For the day of service at the center, our students were broken up into those three teams.
It was fun to watch them work! They were not hesitant or complaining. They dove right in! Hairnets and all!
Some students worked in the food pantry and organized the food donations so the center could easily create care packages of essential items. Some students help organize clothes in the donation center so the clients could find the right type of clothing. Some students helped serve in the dining room to people in need of a hot meal for lunch.
The center serves around 100-200 meals three days a week. Our students served the final meal of the week, so many people showed up to receive assistance. Our kids did great. They welcomed all who came in to eat. They served the food with love and kindness. They did not judge them for needing assistance. They talked with them. They laughed with them. Even cried with them…
Two of our girls ate with a man named Mike, who seemed to be homeless for quite a long time. By talking with him (they are 16 years old!), they learned about his life, his parents, his children, and how he unexpectedly lost his wife a few years back. He was married for 39 years. They had tears in their eyes. They made a connection…not one based on server and taker…but one based in equality and Christian friendship.
The other mission projects during the trip consisted of assisting the elderly through yard work, cleanup around the community, as well as painting Sunday school classrooms at a small local Baptist Church in town. All these acts of mercy were connected to what we were studying in the book of James.
Another student, who is in Junior High School, worked his tail off this weekend and never slowed down! It was a surprise to say the least. When we were raking an elderly woman’s yard, he raked the entire time. When we painted the church, he stayed longer to help finish the details so it would look complete. Was this kid in Junior High? He was acting more like a high schooler than a kid in 7th grade…maybe even older than that.
Even some of our students (who did not attend this trip due to sports, family trips, etc) decided to give up a day of their Spring Break and serve a local ministry called Blueprint Ministries in San Antonio. Dee Dee Sedgwick, who is the Director of Blueprint and one of the co-leaders of the Alamo Heights Life Group for TBC, helped facilitate the day of service. It was really cool.
It hit me! My students were starting to figure it all out. They were learning to participate in the Gospel and not just hear the Gospel.
They got it! They lived it! They did good work.
James (the Author of the book we were studying this trip) would be proud. I was very proud. Not as their leader. But as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ.
They found a Pulse. God is not through with them yet!
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. (The Message)
Last night, after returning from the youth trip on the train back to San Antonio, I arrived back at the Outdoor Shelter at 9:45pm…only fifthteen minutes before they shut the gates. I was glad I made it back! I did not want to have to find a place to crash that late at night again.
When we were pulling into San Antonio, our train went right by the outdoor shelter. All my students and volunteer leaders got a great view of the shelter, because you can see over the gate while on the train. They saw the people sleeping outside in the area. All of them were eager to see where I have been sleeping the past 3 weeks. It was strange to go by on the train and see the shelter as a passenger. In a way, it felt like a bad museum tram tour…like at Universal City.
After we deboarded the train, a parent, along with some students, gave me a ride back to the shelter on their way back home. It was interesting to watch their reaction when we pulled up to the area. (It is not in the best part of town.) “You sleep there?!” they asked. I don’t know if they were impressed, worried, or thought I was crazy…but it definitely made an impact on them and how they view homelessness. I guess this journey became real to them and that I was actually living like a homeless person…not just blogging about it. I even had myself fooled.
Here is the cool thing about my return. When checking back into the shelter that night, I did not know if anyone would realize I had been gone for 4 days. How would I fit back in? However, once I entered back into the area about a dozen residents immediately realized I had been gone a few days and said,”Welcome back.” or “Where have you been?” To be honest, I was not shocked to hear this from the few men who sleep near me at night…but it shocked me that other people, who I was not as familiar with, noticed that I had been gone. They were glad to see me back. I have to confess. Feeling welcome at a homeless shelter is a rare feeling…but It felt really nice and comforting to be missed and loved like that. I was really glad to be back… even excited to be back.
Am I becoming part of the community here? Am I becoming accepted at a place where people come to when they are not accepted anywhere else? That’s radical hospitality.
This place is starting to feel comfortable. Almost like home.