Days 15 – 18: Help: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection

Here are some reflections on some posts I need to catch up on before Holy Week. Below I reflect on some visits to Church Under The Bridge, more adventures with Robert, and meeting philanthropist Baker Duncan.

In the post “Help” from 2012, I write about a Haven for Hope staff member named Annie. I wonder if she still works there? She was such a compassionate person who worked with those living in the shelter. Years later, I have now gotten to know many social workers, case managers, and street outreach workers who are just like Annie and go above and beyond to serve our clients. Two of those people are Morgan and Brittney who work at our Corazon Day Center and help with street outreach. I am lucky to work with people like Morgan and Brittney at Corazon and watch them transform lives each and everyday with their love, grit, dedication, and compassion. They make me a better boss and more importantly make me a better human. They absorb a lot of trauma, work with difficult clients, (a lot like Robert who I write about below), yet never give up on the person no matter how long it takes!

Morgan was named Street Outreach Worker of the Year in 2020 by SARAH along with some other amazing leaders. You can watch what they and other great workers do here or in the shorter video below: They kick ass!


Below I also write about Church Under The Bridge (Now also called “Communities Under the Bridge”) is San Antonio’s Church for the Homeless Community. They reach out with the love of Jesus, giving Hope through preaching, singing, and teaching the Word of God and offering training, free meals, and clothing to satisfy both the Spiritual and physical needs of the congregation. We love what they do for so many of our friends!

The day about Robert was another very memorable moment. We were getting close and I was beginning to see the seriousness of his alcoholism and danger he posed to himself. According to American Addiction Centers, “Homelessness and addiction often occur simultaneously, and, unfortunately, many people struggling with both issues are unable to get the help they need. Substance abuse can develop due to the stressors associated with homelessness. On the other hand, addiction can also contribute to home loss.1 Additionally, many homeless people suffer from addiction as well as other co-occurring psychiatric disorders, which can further complicate their living situations.”


Help” Posted on 

There is a staff member at the outdoor shelter named Annie, who does a fantastic job working with the homeless citizens in the facility . (The shelter employs police officers, staff, and other assistants to help run the campus.) However, it is the civilian dressed staff that handle most of the interaction once inside the gated area. They care for personal needs, listen to concerns, help with first time intake, and organize programs such as the laundry, volunteer hours, and meals.

Some of the staff treat their job just like many people treat their jobs anywhere…they show up, they do just enough work to get by, try not to mess up, and fly under the radar.

Not bad.
Not good.
Just there.

Annie is different…she usually works the graveyard shift in the outdoor shelter, which is from dinner to early in the morning. She arrives in time to make people go to bed, worrying about and handling all the things that happen late at night…fights, sickness, rain…you name it…it happens! (Doesn’t seem to be the best time for a work schedule!) Instead of just sitting back and just barely working through the late night hours, Annie goes above and beyond the call of duty.

For example, a few nights ago she took great care in helping an elderly man find a place to stay indoors, giving him a blanket, and locating a mat to sleep on. It seems simple…but this type of personal care is harder to pull off than one would think at a place like this. She could have passed it off to a volunteer or another homeless citizen…but she slowly worked with the man to get him safely situated for the night. It was no easy task. The man walked slow…real slow…seemed confused about the environment…and was difficult to talk with…this did not bother her. She was patient…calm…kind…and willing to serve the least of these. After all her work, the man finally got situated and fell asleep. You could tell by the smile on her face that she was relieved, and that he had chosen to follow her lead. Due to her extra effort, this man’s sleep was better because of the care she gave to a random stranger. I see her do something like this every night. I like it because its hidden in the small things…

She is one of the few staff that personally says hello to many of the homeless citizens every night. She checks on our comfort level, she laughs with us, jokes with us…and lives life along side us. Not above us or below us. But along side us. Never treating us like second rate citizens.

I love watching her work. I hope everyone cares that much about their own job and the people they serve. She challenges me to be a better minister.

A few year ago, I saw a video on ABC News about how many people easily neglect homeless people in need on the street. It was very revealing. Good help is hard to find these days due to our own distractions and personal motivations. The story reminds me of the parable, “The Good Samaritan,” the one Jesus told his followers in Luke 10:25-37. (Watch the video below.)

The Lord’s story reminds me of why I love people like Annie. She loves others before herself.

What would you do?

Luke 10:25-37

Parable of the Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

C.U.B.: Posted on 

When I was attending Baylor University in Waco, Texas, I attended a church that met under the I-35 Bridge called, “Church Under the Bridge” led by Pastor Jimmy Dorrell. It was a fantastic service. It was about 1/3 homeless; 1/3 college students; and 1/3 others (travelers, adults, and other families.) It was a beautiful image of God every Sunday morning. I could not get enough of that place when I lived in Waco…it’s the only church where I saw Jesus Christ lived out every Sunday morning.

Come to find out… San Antonio has a similar version of this type of church. It’s also called Church Under the Bridge. However, instead of meeting under an actual bridge…they meet in a new building off Crockett St. near a bridge…but that is hard to fit into a church name.

CUB San Antonio has a church service every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 6pm. They provide a meal afterward…but don’t test them…you have to attend the worship service to get the meal. However, the meal and the worship service are both excellent…so that’s not a problem. (They also have a 12 step program that meets on Monday at 6pm, choir practice that meets Wednesdays at 6pm, and bible study that meets on Fridays at 6pm…I really love the simplicity.) If you show up at 6pm….something is happening!

I attended CUB’s Thursday night service with a good friend named Emily Morrow. Emily works with the missionary branch of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (no…the name is not an oxymoron) and has taken good care of this homeless man when stuck in many situations over the last 2 weeks. (Thanks, Emily!)

On Thursday night, after the praise team led us in worship, the preacher spoke about the conversion of Saul into the Apostle Paul (Acts 9). It’s a powerful story, and one that seems to connect with many in the congregation. The premise of his sermon was that we are all like Saul and in need of radical conversion. Saul was a persecutor of Christians…but God still had the ability to turn his life around (with the help from Ananias) and use it for Christ’s glory. If God can change Saul’s life, God can turn anyone’s life around…no matter what their past consists of…drugs…violence…jail…etc. God has the power to radically change your life.

I personally like Ananias in this story…and he is usually not given a lot of credit…

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision,“Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Can you imagine being Ananias? Think about it…having to go into the house where Saul was staying and befriend him after all the horrible things he had done to Christians in the past…it’s crazy. Absolutely crazy! Ananias’ mom would not be happy about God’s assignment…seems a little dangerous. I might have backed out. Whatever, I love that man for having the courage to follow God’s calling in his life! I think it’s really neat that Ananias also brought food! He would fit in nicely at Church Under the Bridge.

This one action of faith changed the world. After Ananias followed God’s lead… Saul was baptized and he transformed into Paul. Needless to say…Paul did some amazing things for Christ and His Church over the next few years. Just read 2/3 of the New Testament to find out!

After the service was over we attended the dinner. Today’s meal was provided by the good folks at Laurel Heights UMC. They served tortellini vegetable soup, sandwiches, cookies, fruit, and tea. It was really good. They also provided seconds. I am beginning to like seconds.

I was surprised to see so many people from the outdoor shelter there during the service. The church is near downtown but not necessarily close to the outdoor area. About 80% of the 200 people there were from the sleeping area where I have been staying. Both places serve evening meals…but this church offers one more thing…

The Love of Jesus Christ
And apparently always at 6pm.


Pizza & Vodka: Posted on 

I went to Church Under the Bridge again ( in San Antonio, Tx) this past Sunday night for their 6pm worship service and meal.

Sunday nights are special at CUB because they serve homemade pizza after the worship service for the homeless members. That’s right—HOMEMADE PIZZA. Every Sunday evening a church or youth group makes and cooks around 80 pizzas in CUB’s own pizza oven. (THE CHURCH BOUGHT A PIZZA OVEN…I love that.) The group gets their ingredients from Little Caesars Pizza but they make the pizza there on the spot. Now, they could just have Little Caesars make the pizzas and save tons of time and energy…but they choose to do it hard way…the personal way…the loving way. Homemade!

Most churches I know don’t even cook for themselves anymore when they gather to eat….much less when they are serving other people. They just take the easy way out and cater from a company or restaurant. What happened to homemade, cooked meals at churches… they need to make a comeback!

I don’t know why this impressed me so much…but it did. Now I know why this night was the talk of the shelter when I arrived a few weeks ago. It’s really fun and personal. A great testimony to how we should serve other people.

I have become good friends with a man named Robert. I met him at CUB. He goes back and forth between the shelter and the shack where he sleeps. The other day Robert helped me with a task that needed two people to complete. His help was really appreciated. So I took him over to a friends house and gave him a nice place to shower and get clean. (I wish the YMCA still allowed people in need to take showers after hours…it would be a perfect place!…kind of like the old song says…It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A….You can get yourself clean you can have a good meal…You can do whatever you feel…) He was enjoying the shower so much he started to smoke a cigarette and sing in the shower. I think the song was Hey, Good Looking…” We had to put out the cig…but it was good to see him so happy! I think he wondered why I passed on the shower…but he just shrugged it off.

Robert is an alcoholic. He’s been one since 17. He is now 56. Later in the day, I saw Robert again. I guess he had gotten hold of some vodka (hidden in his bag) and slipped it into his coffee thermos. I didn’t know. As we were walking down the street, he started to lose control. I began to realize he had been drinking. As we kept walking, he quickly became frustrated…started to stumble…and then fell into the street and passed out. I just froze. Then I went to him (along with another person from the streets) and helped him up. He wanted none of it. He yelled, screamed…and refused the help. He didn’t even know who I was…and he did not want us there. After getting him up, we had to leave him there. In the rain. Sitting right in a puddle. The other man said. “Robert…I love you…but I am not your mama. It’s your choice.”

After a few minutes we came back. This time, he remembered who we were. We got him up and helped him safely home to shelter. It was an experience…but one that is all too common.

I have never seen anyone turn that angry that quickly. I did not get angry back at Robert… because I knew it was not him yelling at me…it was the vodka. Alcohol is a huge problem on the streets. It has destroyed more than just livers.. It has destroyed relationships, jobs, and people’s drive to succeed.

It’s a crazy problem…one that lives in the stereotype of many homeless men and women…but it’s not too far off from common reality.

After just a few weeks on the street, I have begun to see alcohol in a different light.

Last night was also the first night of NO RAIN…after days and days of rain. I can’t tell you how difficult it is to manage your stuff when it’s raining and you are homeless—- especially if you are drunk on vodka. Everything gets wet. Your clothes, your bag, your shoes….everything. Even if there is cover for the night, your sleeping bag gets wet when you have to go back outside in the morning. So I was glad to sleep out under the stars and experience sunshine again.

The good news…things quickly dry under the sun.

Psalm 30:5-11

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.  When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”  O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.  To you, O LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:  “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?  Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.”  You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

OR

He gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.  When things were going great I crowed, “I’ve got it made.  I’m God’s favorite. He made me king of the mountain.” Then you looked the other way and I fell to pieces.  I called out to you, God; I laid my case before you:  “Can you sell me for a profit when I’m dead? auction me off at a cemetery yard sale? When I’m ‘dust to dust’ my songs and stories of you won’t sell. So listen! and be kind! Help me out of this!” You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.

Lunch & Earplugs: Posted on 

The other day a good friend from my home church, Grace Crossings Community Church of Christ, introduced me to a man in San Antonio that was interested in my journey and personal ministry. Once the connection was made, the gentleman wanted to take me out to lunch…but not just a regular lunch…lunch at the Palms. How could I decline?!

However, this man was more than just a man who eats at the Palms…he is a dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ and loves to mentor young men with specific callings in ministry. Over this man’s career he has overseen his church’s diocese, managed a boys boarding school, led the board of directors of a top tier University, and led church camps. He accomplished all this while running his own very successful investment firm. (I’m sure he also has many other projects.) He’s an amazing man. He’s 3 times my age and still has more energy and dedication in his little finger than I have in my entire body!

It was good to meet him, hear his spiritual journey, and learn from his encouraging words. Even though he’s a Yale grad…he loves Duke and thought it was a hoot that a Duke grad would choose to be homeless! I wanted to tell him that Duke students become homeless while they camp out for weeks just to go to Duke basketball games. I guess it’s in our blood.

He encouraged me to set my goals for my ministry and never be afraid to dream BIG…even if it goes against the grain of the norm, my church, or culture. He said he was not into people with small goals…only big ones. I love people who live that way! Go big or go home. That was his creed.

The food was great and the company was even better.

Later that day I made it back to the shelter…and it was raining. Actually, it was raining a lot.

After entering the gates, I had the choice to sleep inside on the gym floor or stay outside and get wet. I chose the gym floor…but I would regret it this time around. Being wet would have been better…

When we were allowed to cram into the gym, I had to quickly find my spot. I found one by a corner near a group of men who seemed to be friends. After they fell asleep, I learned why they were friends….all of them snored…and snored LOUDLY! It was worse than the trains outside! I have never heard some of the sounds that resignated from their noses.

It was bad…my head was pounding…and I could not fall asleep. Hour one went by…then 2, 3, 4…until I remembered I had earplugs somewhere in my bag. I got them in Guatemala when I was staying with another infamous snorer…Paul Hoodless! (Thanks for the plugs Paul!) So I reached in my bag and soon realized they were covered in dirt. I debated what I would do in my mind…live with the snoring or cram dirty earplugs in my ears. I chose the plugs. It worked like a charm. I slept soundly for about an hour before the staff woke us up at 5am to clear us out for breakfast. I walked back into the rain. I should have just stayed outside…because I ended up sleeping under a tarp in the rain to make up for lost sleep. It was a learning experience. Rain is a difficult situation when your homeless.

The same day I ate at the Palms, I found myself sleeping in a muggy gym next to the Snoring Tabernacle Choir with dirty earplugs in my ears. It was definitely an interesting day!

However, I had been blessed by the company of a great follower of Christ, who was willing to help a brother out and encourage him on this crazy journey.


Addison Baker Duncan was born on December 29, 1927, in Waco, Texas to Addison Baker Duncan and Frances Higginbotham Duncan. He had two younger brothers, Malcolm P. Duncan of Waco, and Rufus Duncan who passed away in 1998, and one sister, Laura Duncan Trim of Albuquerque, NM.

Baker attended Woodberry Forest School in Virginia and graduated from Yale University and earned his Master’s Degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
On January 31, 1953, Baker married Sally Prescott Witt of San Antonio, and they settled in Houston, where Baker was employed by Rotan Mosle & Moreland from 1953-1961, and the first two of three sons were born; Addison Baker Duncan III and Richard Witt Duncan. Baker eagerly answered the call to be Headmaster at his old alma mater, Woodberry Forest in 1962. Baker was Headmaster from 1961–1970, and a third son, Andrew Prescott Duncan, rounded out the family. During his tenure at Woodberry, Baker started a building campaign to improve and increase campus buildings and infrastructure, increased the school’s endowment and hired a premier faculty. Baker consulted Sally on her wishes when it was time to leave Woodberry Forest, and they returned to San Antonio in 1970 with their family.

Baker re-joined Rotan Mosle Inc. as Office Manager, where he remained until 1978, when he founded Duncan-Smith Company, where he remained to the present day. Over the years Baker was asked to fill numerous offices, including:
Trustee, Trinity University 1976 – 2000
Trustee, Ray Ellison Grandchildren’s Trust
Director, Southwest Research Institute 1973-2016
Chairman, The San Antonio Museum Association 1975 – 1981
Chairman, Development Board, The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas 1998 – 2004
Chairman, Academic Committee, University of Texas Centennial Commission 1993
Chairman, Chancellor’s Council, The University of Texas System 1982
Leader of Faith Alive Weekends, Episcopal churches throughout the country
Superintendent of the Sunday School, The Colorado Chautauqua Association 1975 – 2012

Ever driven by his projects and causes, Baker was a leader in San Antonio, belonging to the Order of the Alamo, The Argyle, The San Antonio Country Club and St. David’s Episcopal Church. He was also the chairman of Duncan Park in Ward, Colorado, a property of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, and a passionate participant in the development of Pioneer Village in Gonzales, TX. Outgoing and gregarious, he loved entertaining friends and business associates at his favorite booth at the Palm in downtown San Antonio or at one of his clubs. Baker was a member of The Philosophical Society of Texas, serving as Chairman in 2000.

Baker is survived by his wife of 65 years, Sally; three sons and their spouses, Baker III and Susan, Richard and Rose, and Andy and Laurel; ten grandchildren, Sadie, Addison, Adam, Witt, Avery, Nigel, Asher, Lucy, Natalie and Alexander; and three great-grandchildren, Larkin, Ethan and Baker V; his brother, Malcolm Duncan of Waco; his sister, Laura Trim and her husband Jerrold of Albuquerque, NM; and numerous nieces and nephews.

“Women” Day 14: 40 Days of Haven Reflection

For this reflection I have asked Claudia Delfin to write the reflection today. I felt it would be good to have one of the most amazing women I know write her own thoughts about my post in 2012.

Claudia Delfin, a transgender woman who’s an outreach worker at Corazon San Antonio has made it her mission to speak out against inequality, promote harm reduction, and support the unhoused. She’s been on major local news outlets and has a wonderful article about her El Paso/Jaurez work in American Oxford. In 2013, she was state outreach worker of the year for her work helping addicts find healing through harm reduction tactics, street outreach, peer support and treatment.

Learn more about her current work in San Antonio in a great article in the SA Report: “Claudia has been in recovery for more than a decade, has received numerous awards for her social work. ‘We use our motivational interview skills [that] we learn in recovery coach training, how to engage and encourage them to come out,” Delfin said, “because they … have a lot of trauma.”

Here is her reflection:


As I read the article “Women” written by Gavin Rogers, I related to the article in many ways. As a young trans woman, I had succumbed to violence by males in many settings. I also was physically abused by several men when I was in shelters.

My addiction led me to be homeless and I also prostituted to support myself financially and spent time in prison. I can fully empathize with the woman Gavin wrote about who covered the man with a blanket. I was very codependent and had unresolved trauma. The woman might have been hurt in many ways but she still had a lot of compassion to offer others. We can learn from her.

Claudia at her home in El Paso, with her two dogs, Duchess and Princess.
By: Reed Young, American Oxford “Humanity on the Street:

The article was written very realistically because women go through this abuse from men either verbal, physical, or mental. This can happen in shelters, in fancy homes, and on the streets. Violence against women happens in all social and economical levels.

At first read, the blog post may have words that seem to be stigmatizing such as “slut”, but the word gives me a clearer picture of the scenario and is used to show how most people treated her at the shelter. It’s not easy to live in that reality but one we must understand if we want to connect with her and her powerful story.

The statistics on women’s abuse by men was important to include!!! Even though this article was written ten tears ago, but the abuse of women is still ongoing.

Please reflect on Gavin’s 2012 reflection about his experience in the San Antonio shelter and try to stand in the shoes of these women who find themselves trapped in a system that is hard to escape. However, I know there is great hope if we continue to lift up their voices and stand with women who are in need of support, care, and compassion. -Claudia Delfin

“Women” March 8, 2012

Since I began my blog I have only written about my interactions with the men I have met in the homeless community. The outdoor sleeping area is divided between men and women at night so its more common for me to have longer conversations with the men. However, there are many women who stay in the outdoor shelter and have tremendous need.

When I arrived at the outdoor shelter on Tuesday evening there were cop cars surrounding the area.  It seemed strange…but not surprising because this is a bad part of town so I just quietly walked on by the cop cars and checked into the area.  Once I entered the gates women started buzzing about what just took place.

According to the sources…just before I arrived there was a woman arguing with another man outside the gates where many people gather to socialize (in both good and bad ways.)  The argument started small…then elevated to a fight…and then the woman was physically abused and hit in the face by the man.  I don’t really know what the fight was about.  It does not matter.  It was a tragic but all to common situation.

This was a strange night for me to confront this issue emotionally because I was just returning from Trinity University where I watched a play about women’s rights and issues all around the globe.  (Angela Tarango, a former Duke Ph.D student and T.A who is now a Professor of Religion at Trinity, starred in the play with her colleagues.)  Needless to say…women were on my mind.

Like the men in the shelter, the women come from all different ages, races, and backgrounds.  However, it seems to me that many of the women struggle with different problems than many of the men.   A major one being….abuse.

Physical Abuse
Sexual Abuse
Mental Abuse
Chemical Abuse
Unfortunately, it’s all here at the shelter.

I see it every night.

Violence.  There are women who are abused by men on a daily basis in and around the shelter.  They are talked down to by the men, yelled at, and commonly show signs of physical abuse.   You can see it in their eyes.  You can see it in their smile.  You can see it all over their body.  We can very easily write it off as just another issue on the streets.  But the problem is much bigger than “the streets.”  Violence against women happens at every economic level.  Historically, men have the upper hand over women due to the cultural and religious beliefs of many people.  The same applies on the streets.  The woman here are treated by the other homeless men as second class citizens.

Sex.  Prostitution is everywhere on the streets.  It is not uncommon to witness women selling their bodies as they make their rounds in and out of the sleeping area during the night.  Some cater to the men in and around the shelter…and some cater to business men or others who drive up to the area and pick them up on the side of the road.  The world’s oldest profession plays a huge part in the abuse of homeless women living on the streets.  It’s not always by total free choice.  Quite the opposite when it happens inside poverty.  One women I have befriended is one of these women.  She spends many of her nights at a motel downtown when she posts good business.  They guys here give her attention when they want her body for sex…but when that is not possible they treat her like dirt and call her a slut for acting the way she does.  It kills me.  It seems so one-sided.

In fact, she is a terrific woman.  She just needs to be loved by the right people in life.  The other day she found a cat and started to care for it.  And she wanted to show everyone her new pet!   When I ran into her she needed a rope to make a leash so we gathered up enough lanyards from our ID cards to make a leash.  It was fun.  I saw this practice done by others with pets in the area!

However my favorite story comes from my third night in the outdoor shelter about 2 weeks ago. One evening a women a I were sitting at a picnic bench inside the gates talking about life when a man came into the area completely drunk. As he made his way into the area he quickly passed out on the cement by our table. Quietly, without announcement or scene, she got up, grabbed and extra blanket from her mat and laid it on top of the man. Then jumped back into our conversation. Her quiet kindness blew me away. Why would she care for someone like that after all she has been through? It hit me…

For a moment she was able to focus on something other than sex.  For a moment she was able to participate in true love.  For a moment she was not a slut.

Jesus had many interactions with women.  Some not looked upon so kindly by others…
Read Luke 7:36-50 and John 8:1-11

The truth is shocking. According to the United Nations, one of every three women on the planet will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. “Although sources of violence may seem diverse, women’s responses sound tragically similar. Besides the pain and strength you will hear in their survival stories, the themes that resound across cultures and geographies are of the indifference of authorities, the familial instinct of denial, and the lack of public outrage about the violence that millions of women experience every day.”

The night the lady was abused outside the outdoor shelter, my friend Angela was helping raise money to help stop the violence against women.  The fight against women’s violence was born of the belief that until the above themes are addressed, these violations named and taken up by whole communities as an unacceptable desecration of human dignity, the violence will continue.

Go online and help fight against violence. There are many great organizations that help fight for women’s rights. Join one of them tonight.

Day 12 & 13: “Cough & Rent”:

These next few days were typical nights of my journey. I was still getting used to the sounds (like constant coughing) from those living in the shelter. I vividly remember the senses and the feeling I had during those long nights. It was not easy and those memories remind me about the holistic needs of those living on the streets. Medical care and rental assistance programs help keep people healthy and off the streets so they can make positive decisions to move forward at a fairer advantage. Those memories also remind me of the good work of so many agencies in San Antonio.

I am grateful for groups like Yanawana Herbolarios, Corazon Clinic, and the SA Street Medicine Team who provide medical care for clients all over San Antonio and downtown. Free Medical care helps prevent many common illnesses and diseases in the unhoused community and helps treats common ailments with wound care, derm care, mental health care, pharmaceutical care, and holistic care. All forms are needed and work together to offer healing on the streets!

I am grateful for places like Christian Assistance Ministries, SA Hope Center, SAMM, SARAH and others who help people find homes or rental assistance. Without them people such as Derek would have a harder time getting back on their feet as they start a new job.

Below are my reflections from Day 12 & 13 in 2012:


Cough: March 5, 2012

The first night I mentioned the noises you hear when you sleep outside in the city.  The trains, sirens, traffic, talking, laughing, screaming, fighting…etc.  However, there is one more sound that has made the top of the list…

The Cough.
Like in cough, cough…I have a cold.

Coughing due to sickness, the weather, and/or the cigarette smoke.  It’s all around.  And very concerning….morning, day and night.

In the outdoor shelter there are hundreds of homeless citizens living within the gates.  People of all different ages, races, and gender.  They get sick just like the rest of us.  But many of the homeless don’t have the common medical resources many of us receive at home or our doctor’s office.   Now, there are medical clinics that reach out to the homeless but I don’t know all the regulations or if these clinics are fully utilized by all the people….I guess I need to find out.

It is fair to say that at any given moment someone is always coughing…it’s a constant sound.  Some of the coughs seem really bad, long, and chronic.  It makes me cringe every time I hear the sound.

I know this is a strange topic to be blogging about but I feel I need to be writing about all angles of my experience and the topic has been on my mind lately because just 2 days ago…I started to cough.  And it’s not a good feeling at all.   Even though I now feel a small connection to the other people who are suffering with a cough.

I am not looking for pity…I knew it was part of the deal when I signed up for this kind of experience.  (And I have friends looking out for me!) However, it has made me realize how many people on the streets are really sick and need major medical help.

In the end, I know that I will be okay…because I have health insurance from my work.  If something bad happens here…I am covered.  This is only a Lenten journey and simulation.  I have a fall back.

It just bothers me that in 34 days my cough will be gone but the coughing will still continue for many all around the city streets after Easter morning.

Rent: March 6, 2012

There is one man I sleep near during the night named Derek.  He is in his early 20’s and seems like a moral and upright man.  He’s been there every night since I began sleeping there regularly. After he charges his go-phone at one of the few electrical outlets he then lays out his mat near our section at 9:30pm on the dot.

Derek works at a coffee shop in Northwest San Antonio and goes to work everyday before I even wake up at 6am.  Why is Derek living here at the outdoor shelter?

Was it drugs?
Was it alcohol?
Was it medical?
Was it bad investments?
I don’t want to believe it was any of these…but I am not sure yet.

Why is this guy homeless?

Derek is a very quiet man.  Always listening to music and never really bothering anyone around him. Georgia and I like to sleep near him because he is quiet and respectful.  He’s a good “roommate” in the outdoor shelter.

It took me a while to get to know Derek but he has started to open up to the new guy in town.  Come to find out he is new to the area himself.  Derek has been living in the outdoor shelter for just a few weeks, not much longer than I have. He was evicted from his apartment because he had trouble paying rent on a regular basis.  He began to stay here because he needs to save enough money to pay more than just 1 month…he wants to save enough so he never has to come back to this place again.  He’s saving all the money he can.  The outdoor shelter is a good place to start.   

Where was his family?
Where were his friends?
Where was his church, temple, or community center?
Where was the love?

“I only will be here for 1 month or so…then I will get my own place” he said.  That’s all I really know about his future plans.  (Many people living here don’t open up all at once…its a work in progress when it comes to learning someone’s story.)   (See my rules for how I reveal info…)

I really hope to make it up to his coffee shop and drink a warm cup of joe sometime soon.  Then hopefully after Easter I can visit his new apartment…it would be good to see him back indoors.

Psalm 27

From The Message:
Light, space, zest— that’s God!
So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing.

When vandal hordes ride down ready to eat me alive,
Those bullies and toughs fall flat on their faces.

When besieged, I’m calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool.

I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing:
To live with him in his house my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.

That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.

God holds me head and shoulders above all who try to pull me down.
I’m headed for his place to offer anthems that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs; I’m making music to God.

Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs: “Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,” my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!” Don’t hide from me now!

You’ve always been right there for me; don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me; you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me, but God took me in.

Point me down your highway, God; direct me along a well-lighted street;
show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs, those liars who are out to get me,
filling the air with their threats.

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.

“NAME” Day 10 & 11: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection

This blog post from 2012 is one I read the most when I give talks about homelessness. I often read it when someone asks me a common and predictable question after my talk. People in groups like Rotary or Lions service clubs or church outreach groups usually ask something like, “What can our group do to serve the homeless?” It’s an honest question. One I appreciate. Now, I think they expect me to answer like this, “It would be great for your group to come serve food or donate clothes at our center…” If said this, they can easily sign-up and check the project off the list. Please don’t get me wrong. All those things are good and sometimes needed. However, this kind of charity is easy and often duplicated by many great organizations.

What I usually say is that I would love for a group like Rotary to come cook, serve the food, but most importantly eat the food and join in conversation WITH our homeless guests. (Groups like that have tons of capable people with skills who could offer great advice to those we serve.) However, when I say this, the group usually just stares back at me. You see, serving food or giving money is easy but engaging and being vulnerable with another person, especially the homeless, is hard and often uncomfortable for many people. This is understandable but should challenge us to do more!

That is why it’s easier to hide behind giving money or serving in a kitchen line because it makes us feel good without having to make any real human connection during charity. Just think of the time when you encounter someone who might be homeless and asks you for money on the sidewalk. Most of the time it’s easier just to give them a coin instead of making real eye contact, spending time, or even worse, starting a conversation with them.

When we engage with someone in genuine conversation, we open ourselves up to be vulnerable with a disinherited stranger and possibility admitting we might share much more in common with that person. This encounter might lead us to feel responsible to help in larger ways. It often requires time and real effort so this frightens us.

That’s why I was so impressed with the church that served the meal at Haven on March 2, 2012. They had all types of volunteers who engaged with those who were homeless. Not only did they cook and serve amazing food (I found out later that they serve food that men from their church hunt for during hunting season) but they treated the homeless like their own family with dignity and respect. They asked for names. They made eye contact. And they were not afraid to be vulnerable and join in conversation WITH the homeless.

Serving someone a meal might treat a temporary need, but sharing in a meal and joining in conversation with the homeless can be transformative. Partaking equally in our common humanity can be life changing. (I will share more on this in the blogs to come but for now enjoy the original blog for Day 10 & 11 and the passages I reflected during those days of 2012.)

NAME: March 3, 2012
A good friend of mine, Bryan Fillette, came in from Houston to experience part of this Lenten journey with me for a few days.  Bryan is a smart man. (Not for living with me on the streets…but what he has accomplished before today.)  Bryan graduated with a 4.0 from LSU, attended Baylor Medical School for one year, then transferred to Duke University to attain a Divinity degree (that’s where I met him and we became roommates), and then he went back to Baylor Medical School to complete his M.D. in Psychiatry.  He is now both a Reverend and a Medical Doctor…and he allowed himself to experience life at the “lowest level.”

Bryan attends a church near the Houston Medical Center where he leads Sunday School and leads the efforts to provide assistance to the homeless near his church.  He calls it “Common Ground.”  I like that name.

When Bryan arrived at the outdoor shelter it was time for dinner.  Usually dinner is simple and you can only get one plate from the churches that provide the meals.  However this night was different.  Last night, River City Community Church (their website is www.reallife.org … I also like that name!) served us the dinner…and it was amazing.  First off, it was the first time in 8 days that I was greeted by the church volunteers in line before we were served and they asked me “What’s your name?” before we were seated. Let me type it again.

They asked me, “What’s your name?”

They cared enough to know my name…some random homeless person needing a place to eat.  They cared about the downtrodden, the addicts, the hookers, and the lonely.  For a moment, they look past the shaggy hair, torn clothes, and smelly bodies…and they see Jesus Christ.

They didn’t have to ask.  All the churches before didn’t find it neccessary to ask that question.  I bet they are all great churches…but River City Community Church got it right.  They saw the image of God in every single one of us.  The humanized homelessness.

It was the first time we also were allowed to have 2nd, 3rds, or even 4ths.  They brought that much food!  And did not hold back. They had ground beef, white rice, beans, pickles, jalepenos, bread, milk, tea, cheese, and juice. It was a banquet. It was a great banquet.

Last night the dining room had a different feel than the nights before.  The residents were laughing, hugging, sharing food, and praying for one another.  This might happen quite often here…but it was the first time I experienced that type of spirit in the outdoor shelter.

Maybe it was luck.
Maybe it was the weather.
Maybe is was the 2nds.
Or maybe it was the love River City Church had for everyone regardless of social status…how they dropped their fear of the homeless and saw in us the Image of God.

Maybe it was because they asked, “What’s your name?”

“NAME” Day 10 & 11: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection

Luke 14:15-24 (Posted on )

The Parable of the Great Banquet

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Proverbs 3:24-26 (Posted on )

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  Have no fear of sudden disaster or of ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.”

Day 11: 46 Days!
The Second Sunday of Lent is here.  We are making our way to Gethsemane….and we have 35 more days to go.

35 days left…but its been 11 days?    FYI…the Lenten season is really 46 days long.  I keep forgetting that fact.   And did not remember till recently.  (Sundays are considered “mini-Easters” and the church does not include these days in the Lenten Calendar.  However, I have decided to include these days and will continue my fast.   I am leading a youth trip on a Discipleship Retreat  March 14-18 and I will be away from San Antonio…so I have 4 days to give.  However…we are riding a train…so it’s definitely not my home…  (www.puslestudents.com)

Having Bryan in town to witness part of the fast was great.  I hope he had a good time meeting my friends and learning more about homelessness in San Antonio.  Bryan told me to keep writing about my direct interactions and stories regardless of the image.  I told him I would…so this next week all I will write about is my direct interactions and journey.

It was 39 degrees last night…the coldest night yet.   But my sleeping bag keeps me warm.

Have a great Sunday!  -gavin

(NOTE: I was a Baptist at the time, and grew up Church of Christ, so I forgot Lent was longer than 40 Days but stayed longer to make up my misunderstanding!)


“Whiskey River” Day 9: 40 Days of Haven Reflection:

This day in the 40 day journey will go down in history. Now, this post is hard one to reflect on!

This is the night I met William Schooman or “Chily Willie” in San Antonio. I met William during youth group on a Wednesday night at Trinity Baptist’s TriPoint campus. Willie had wandered into the lobby and was seeking some assistance, food, or support. I don’t remember what he said at first, and I was about to ask him to leave. You see, only youth and volunteers were allowed in the building during that time and the standard protocol would have been to kindly give him a handout that gave directions to Haven for Hope or some other homeless provider at the time. However, that night I was staying at Haven, so I spent some time talking with him because I felt guilty. I learned a lot about him, his fear of shelters, and why he was homeless. At the end of the conversation, I happened to say, “Well…I’m staying at Haven tonight, so after youth group, I can meet you by the bus stop…and you can come with me.”

Little did I know — but the suggestion to “come with me” would alter my entire journey and eventually form a deep friendship that would change my life and direction of ministry. What gets me, is this: Now, if I would have just said, “Here are the directions to Haven…I hope you choose to go there and get there safe.” He most likely would have said something like, “thanks” walked out, thrown away the directions outside, and continued down St. Mary’s Street. However, to my surprise, I didn’t give him the sheet but made the suggestion to come to Haven with me. He somehow believed me and he waited for me to finish work at the bus stop.

At the bus stop, I asked him if we wanted to go to Haven again and why he waited. He said this and I remember it like it was yesterday: “Well, I have nothing to do and all day to do it…so why not?!”

We decided to eat cheap hot dogs first, walk a bit, and then catch the bus to Haven. What a crazy encounter that would change so much! Not all encounters have that ending, but this one did. I have no doubt I will write more about Willie a lot more times in this reflection. I can’t wait to share more and remember that man who “showed me the ropes.”

One thing is for sure, Willie helped me more than I ever helped him. Willie taught me a about our common humanity, what true friendship looks like, how to fight through the challenges life throws at us, and how to hope for a better day. He is my hero.

Know one thing, at the end of the original 2012 blog for this day, I ended with “I hope he stays longer.” Looking back, I am glad God placed the two of us to collide on the same path and that God answered my prayer. Read original below:

Photo By Bob Owen, San Antonio Express News

“Whiskey River” March 2, 2012

I am beginning to make some really good friends along my journey.  It’s definitely the best part of the experience.

A few nights ago I was leading Pulse at the Point and Skate Church on Wednesday night and ran into a man named William in our community center.  He has been homeless for 20 years and said he camps out in and around San Antonio.  He asked me for some assistance and I said I would walk with him to the outdoor shelter when church was over.  I told him I was staying there and he stared right back at me with such a confused look on his face.  “You sleep there?” he asked.  “For now” I told him.  After some more small talk, he said he has heard about the place…but had never been there.  I really did not know if he would wait until I was done working.

After Wed. night church was over I found William once again and we went to grab some hot dogs at a local stand near our community center before making our way to the shelter.  William makes some money sweeping driveways at local businesses in town and barley makes ends meet.  His struggle with homelessness has not been easy.

After we ate we had to walk some distance to the bus stop that takes us to the outdoor shelter.  This is when I learned something interesting….some people in the homeless community do not enjoy walking long distances but stay in their local community most (if not all) of the time.  William said he was not a fan of walking that much but said that he was okay with it because I was “showing him the ropes.”  I thought that was funny…because he really was showing me the ropes.

Half way to the bus stop we stopped to take a break and William had to use the restroom and eat another hot dog.  He told me, “I love you homeboy…but we need to slow down and I need to eat this dang hot dog…I’m still hungry and need to fill my stomach”  He was nice and frustrated all at the same time.  This is when I became worried that we would miss the bus and not make curfew.  So I had the choice to leave him or stay.  (This is when I realized I was not fully connecting with some of the homeless lifestyle…I had to pray for patience.)

I chose to stay and wait.  It was hard to do.  After our break William began singing old country and western songs like “On the Road Again” and “Hey Good Looking.”  You might think this sounds cliche and so did I…but he was really into the songs.  So I sang along.  Then he got to “Whiskey River.”  I became really excited… because that’s one of my favorite songs. After he sang the song I told him that Johnny Bush (the person who wrote the song) attends our church and helped lead worship in our Sanctuary Service a few weeks ago.  (See my facebook page.)  He thought I was pulling his leg…there was nothing I could say to prove it…so we just kept on waking and singing the song.

After some time we made to our bus stop.  William sat on the bench and smoked a used cigarillo he scored from another friend.  He was glad to sit down.  William had doubts about going to the outdoor shelter but he chose to continue on when the bus finally arrived.

We made it back just before curfew and William had to get screened before he could enter the area.  When he was finally made it in the gates he told me that I needed to stay close because this experience was like “being lost in a jungle” because the place was so crowded with people.  He was not used to sleeping outside with that many people in one area.  We grabbed our mats and fell quickly to sleep after we talked for a few more minutes.  William was tired…and so was I.

The next morning William had to go get fully checked in so I waited until he completed this step.  After he was done we parted ways and he told me he was going to stay in the area to eat lunch and dinner.  I hoped that was going to be true.  I then went off to work on the VIA bus.

When I returned around 5:45pm I thought William would be gone after he had enough meals and rest.  But just when I got to my spot I saw him with dinner in hand, new clothes, and blankets sitting outside.  (A friend of his was staying at the shelter too and hooked him up with some swag.)  It made my day to see him still there, with new clothes, a full stomach, and rested.

We slept side to side again the next night.  It’s good to have a friend like him around.  I hope he stays longer.

“Whiskey River” Day 9: 40 Days of Haven Reflection:

Lent 2022
10 Years ago, I decided to live on the streets of San Antonio during the Lenten season to learn about homelessness in San Antonio and how I could better understand the community through acts of solidarity. I was a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, and at the time, the congregation was grappling how to serve the unhoused population at their newly opened TriPoint Community Center. I had very little understanding of the realities of homelessness and wanted to better understand the community before I formed any opinion of services. Little did I know how formative the 40+ days would end up being for me!

The journey was not perfect but It was a life changing event that unexpectedly changed the direction of my life, ministry, and calling. I have the privilege of now looking back on those days, the relationships formed, and lessons learned from a much different perspective. I am going to post each daily “40 Days of Haven” blog post during lent unedited with only some slight name changes for clarity and then post a current reflection. (In 2012, I was still protecting some identities to respect their own story.)

I hope you enjoy, read with lots of grace and forgiveness, and reflect with me during this Lenten Season of 2022. -gavin

“DEAL” Day 8: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection

In 2012, I would change the names of the friends I would meet on the streets or in the shelter to honor their privacy. This was also good because two of my friends were named Josh and Joshua, so it would have been confusing to write.

“Georgia’s” real name was Joshua. As stated below, he was living in the outdoor shelter while his wife was living in the indoor shelter. I would later learn that she was receiving treatment for substance abuse and PTSD, and that Joshua could have kept his job in Georgia while his wife received treatment. However, he didn’t want to be separated by distance when she was getting help at Haven for Hope. Therefore, he decided to quit his job and support her in San Antonio until another plan could be made. He didn’t qualify to be in the indoor shelter at the time so he would sleep in Prospect’s Courtyard so he could see his wife at least once a day.

I remember the night Joshua and I got tons of food from the local gas station before it closed. We got a huge deal and ate the food before curfew, while overlooking the train tracks at the old train station. It was the first bonding moment I had with someone I met in the shelter. One I would cherish for years to come.

I have officiated a lot of marriages in the past 20 years and they have said the following vows:

“I take __________ to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.”

All the couples seem to get really excited about the “for better” and “for richer” part of the vow. They say it with total confidence in the ceremony. Who wouldn’t? But I have never actually seen a husband live out the “for worse” or “for poorer” part of the vows like Joshua did for his wife at Haven for Hope. He taught me what it meant to honor and support a partner even when life takes a turn for the worst and even provides an easy way out.

When I started the journey in 2012, I wasn’t expecting to learn about the commitment of marriage from someone I met while on the streets but people will always surprise you if we open our eyes and see the common humanity in all people. Thank you, Joshua! Hope all is well in Seattle.

Below is the original “DEAL” post from 2012:

DEAL: Original 2012 Post
I have met a man my age at in the outdoor shelter I commonly frequent. He is a really fun guy with a kind heart and helpful personality. He is married, from Georgia, and has a wife who stays in the indoor shelter next door while they both seek aid and assistance from the program. Actually, they searched many cities across the nation and chose San Antonio based on the success of this program.

A few nights ago “Georgia” and I were hungry and we wanted to grab a bite to eat before curfew. So I told him that I would buy us some food if he walked with me to the local corner store because I had 6 dollars left for the day (and you always need to walk in pairs at night). He agreed….and said he could get me a deal on food. So I agreed.

Food can be hit or miss when you are homeless. It’s not a guarantee. You have to be real organized to make all the shelters that provide food to the needy. You need a bus pass, a ride, etc. So a good deal on food is too good to pass up.

We walked down to the local corner store and it was about to close…so he convinced the clerk to sell us all the fried food under the heat lamp for just 5 dollars. The clerk looked at his watch, looked at the dried up food, paused, and struck the deal. I started to laugh out loud. It was a lot of food.

We had a blast that night talking about life, our problems, (his past, my past) and our dreams…all while eating fried burritos, jalapenos, chicken, and fries by the train track near our shelter. It was the best meal yet…even though I might regret it later.

Luckily we made it back before our curfew. What a great night. And I have an extra dollar and a new friend.


Lent 2022
10 Years ago, I decided to live on the streets of San Antonio during the Lenten season to learn about homelessness in San Antonio and how I could better understand the community through acts of solidarity. I was a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, and at the time, the congregation was grappling how to serve the unhoused population at their newly opened TriPoint Community Center. I had very little understanding of the realities of homelessness and wanted to better understand the community before I formed any opinion of services. Little did I know how formative the 40+ days would end up being for me!

The journey was not perfect but It was a life changing event that unexpectedly changed the direction of my life, ministry, and calling. I have the privilege of now looking back on those days, the relationships formed, and lessons learned from a much different perspective. I am going to post each daily “40 Days of Haven” blog post during lent unedited with only some slight name changes for clarity and then post a current reflection. (In 2012, I was still protecting some identities to respect their own story.)

I hope you enjoy, read with lots of grace and forgiveness, and reflect with me during this Lenten Season of 2022. -gavin

“VIA” Day 7: 40 Days of Haven

It been tens years since my 2012 lenten journey and a lot has changed in San Antonio, but one thing has remained the same, riding the bus around our city. I am afraid the VIA bus system in San Antonio has remained static even when our leaders have the best intentions. When I first wrote the blog in 2012, I was being very optimistic and hoped for the best when it came to taking the bus in San Antonio.

However, taking a honest look, public transportation is one of the things that holds San Antonians back from becoming a city that is accessible by all citizens. Now, there are great people on the VIA board and staff working hard to improve the system, but they are held back by inadequate funding and politics. We need better routes that get across town (and not just easy routes to downtown), faster forms of mass transit, and ways to encourage ridership. But until we really invest in transportation we will be stuck in the past and only hurt those who truly rely on VIA.

My good friend Rey Saldaña (former councilman and VIA board chair) rode the VIA bus for one month to learn how to improve our system. His advocacy challenges each of us to engage our community and help improve how we all move around our town so we can stay connected. As mentioned in the 2012 post, Rosa Parks teaches us that public transportation can be a vital indicator of equity and equality and is a vital resource for any community.

What can we do to make public transportation improve in San Antonio? Would love to know your opinions.

Here is the original blog from 2012:

Happy Leap Day!  I so want to meet someone born on this day…if you were…Happy Birthday!  (None of my friends…not even facebook friends…were born on this day.)

Well…It’s been 1 full week.  Crazy.

The journey is beginning to become a reality.  I am meeting very interesting people who have befriended me and my situation of homelessness.  (Their stories will be posted later this week.)  I am now getting used to going to sleep at 9:30pm and getting up around 6am.  I know that’s not unusual for many people…but it’s much different when you are outside.  You can’t get on your computer, watch TV, drive a car, etc.  You have a lot of time to kill…just waiting…and at best talk to a friend, read a book, or if your really lucky, listen to music.   My back is starting to hurt from the ground…and my legs are getting tired of walking all around the city.

I now have a VIA bus pass and not just day tickets.  It’s good for 30 days.  The VIA Metropolitan Transit is the City of San Antonio’s public transportation system mainly consisting of buses and trolleys.  For the size of our city, it has one of the largest route systems in the nation and the second largest in Texas.  About 36 million trips are made on VIA every year.

36 million trips full of people needing to get to work, the grocery store, doctors office, or a friend’s house.  I assume many of the people who ride VIA don’t have a personal car or have limited use of a car.  Because in Texas, the car is like the horse was back in the 19th century.  Everyone needs their own horse to ride.  If you don’t…your not a real cowboy and will have a hard time getting somewhere important.  San Antonio is not like Boston, New York, Washington DC, or Chicago where you can live easily without a car.  Here things are spread out and very difficult to get to from a specific location.

Public buses seem unimportant and outdated in today’s society.  However, public transportation has played a huge part in American history and still offers great support to those with limited freedom and lack of transportation.

The bus I ride to work every morning has a seat dedicated to Rosa Parks, a civil rights pioneer who made her mark in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat because she was a colored women.  Apart from being a women of strong conviction, Rosa was also a women of deep Christian faith.

She did not start out as a loud civil rights leader.  Quite the opposite.  Growing up she was very simple yet consistent.   Usually alone with few real friends, Rosa learned to find comfort in Christian hymns such as “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Jesus” and “Oh, Freedom, Let it Ring,” which she learned from her mother as a small child.  “Faith in God was never the question for Rosa Parks; it was the answer.”  Rosa fought against the notion, made popular by social critic James Baldwin, that “to be black in America is to live in a constant stage of rage.”  It was the teachings of Jesus Christ that truly formed her social ethic, very similar to Martin Luther King, Jr., “that a heart filled with love could conquer anything, even bigotry.”  “God is everything to me” Parks would often remark.   “I remember finding such comfort and peace while reading the Bible,” Parks averred. “Its teaching became a way of life and helped me in dealing with my day-to-day problems.” She did, however, support that her nonviolent disposition was not an excuse to be passive and not active in protest.  “From my upbringing and the Bible I learned people should stand up for rights,” she recalled, “just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh.”

Rosa is a hero of mine.  I need to be more active for the simple acts of social justice…not just the loud and obvious issues.  Like issues found on the local city bus.

(Riding public transportation always reminds me of my friend, Derek Webb, and his song, “Bus Driver” as a member of the band Caedmon’s Call.  Something about the way the driver’s act always make me smile.  Enjoy.)

“Rain” Day 6: 40 Days of Haven Reflection

When it rains its very hard to manage life on the streets. All your blankets, possessions and clothes get soaked. It’s hard to dry and you often have to throw away possessions that get ruined. This leads to people losing important paperwork, ID’s and Social Security Cards. Once you lose those documents you sometimes fail to get into shelters and other programs that require identification. It can spiral down quickly.

Not to mention that getting wet without an easy way to stay dry results in sickness, infections, and skin conditions such as foot rot or a fungal infection. It is not pretty and leads to many issues.

I am grateful to lead Corazon San Antonio. With unconditional love and justice, we provide support to people experiencing homelessness and to people who are marginalized, suffering from trauma, mental illness, or addiction to enhance mind, body, spirit, creativity, and community.

When it rains (or snows like it did in 2021) we can open up our Day Center or our Temporary Overnight Shelter so our guests can find respite, get dry or warm, receive hygiene kits and get a warm meal. Hopefully, we are able to help a client stay dry, help with case management, and find options to get off the street and into shelter

Here is my Original Post from 2012:

“RAIN” Feb. 28, 2012
It rained.

I knew it would happen sometime during the 40 days despite South Texas still managing a sizable drought.  Over the last few weeks the rain has slowly returned and the Spring weather has brought a few rain showers with the shift of seasons.  (It could rain for the remaining 35 days and we still would need more water to get Texas back to normal!)  So last night…the clouds developed just enough to rain and soak the outdoor sleeping area.

My bag got wet, part of my sleeping bag, and clothes.

Not having your own place to go to when it rains is very dehumanizing.  Normally I would go home, turn on the TV, cook some soup, or take a nap in my bed.  That could not happen.  I was at the mercy of outside forces and other people.

Rain.  Not the best situation for the homeless.

I hate getting wet and not having a place to get dry.  I know it sounds silly, but it reminds me of working at summer camp and getting wet on a hiking trip in Durango, Colorado…but this is not camp.  It’s real life.

However, there was a silver lining hidden in nighttime cumulus.  When it rains and the outdoor area becomes unusable for the homeless to sleep there (for those without cover), they are allowed to sleep on the floor in a large gym attached to another adjacent homeless shelter.  Same mat, same hard floor, more crammed with people, but there is a roof over your head!  Not a bad night.  And the best part about it….no train horns!

It could have been the best night of sleep yet if it weren’t for the wake up call……at 5am. (It’s normally 6:30…but when it rains, and you sleep in the cafeteria of another shelter, you  have to get out of there much earlier to clean up and be ready for breakfast…)  I wonder how my homeless friends camping in the woods manage rainy nights?  It can’t be as simple.

By the way, there is not much to do on the streets at 5am.  Pretty dead.  Luckily I get to go to my youth group’s weekly breakfast and devotional today at 7am…so I got on the VIA bus at 5:30am, arrived at the church at 6am, and checked this blog.  I’m lucky to have this job.

Many people don’t and are back in the rain.

“SUITS” Day 5: 40 Days of Haven – Reflection

For the first few days of my journey, I stayed at an outdoor shelter called Prospects Courtyard (PCY) at Haven for Hope that has less rules than the indoor campus. (It has since moved fully indoors during the evenings for PCY guests.) At the time it was the only place one could find quick shelter if indoors shelters were full. The courtyard provides three meals a day, a mattress, showers, support, and blankets for guests.

I remember this day like it was yesterday. One of the first things that shocked me at the start of this journey was the misconceptions I had about homelessness and the diversity that exists in the community. Walking into the courtyard as a new person was like walking into a school cafeteria as a new student and not knowing where to sit because there are many social circles and groups.

For the first few nights I slept near a man who would wear a suit and go to work each morning. He was well spoken and had started a new job. After the original post below, I learned later that he was getting back on his feet and needed a place to sleep, shower, and wash clothes so he could gain enough money to pay off bills and find better options.

According to “Policy Advice” and other organizations the state of homelessness in America looked like this in or around 2021:

  • The number of homeless in the US is estimated at 552,830. (White House)
  • Approximately 17 people per 10,000 experience homelessness each day. (HUD)
  • 20% of homeless individuals are, in fact, kids. (HUD)
  • 42% of street children identify as LGBT. (Street Kids)
  • 39.8% of homeless persons are African-Americans. (Forbes)
  • 13% of homeless persons are of Hispanic origin. (Forbes)
  • 48% of homeless persons in the US are white. (Forbes)
  • 2.8% of homeless persons are Native American. (Forbes)
  • 61% of homeless persons are men and boys. (HUD)
  • 11% of homeless persons are veterans & 8% of homeless veterans are women. Stats suggest that 40% of single homeless men are veterans (Policy Advice & PBS)
  • 38.6% of sheltered homeless individuals are disabled. (National Law Center on Homelessness)
  • 25% of homeless people have mental illnesses. (PBS)
  • 38% of homeless people are alcohol dependent, and 26% are dependent on other harmful chemicals. (The National Coalition for the Homeless)
  • 58% of homeless individuals in Texas, California, and Florida entail youth, homelessness statistics from 2018 reveal. (AHAR)
  • Over 65% of the homeless population in America is in homeless shelters. (White House)
  • 58,000 students identified as homeless in 2013. (AC Online)
  • Only 30% of affordable housing is available to people with extremely low income. 25% of renters have extremely low income that can easily lead to homelessness. (National Law Center on Homelessness)
  • 23% of the US homeless population is chronically homeless. (PBS)
  • Every year, roughly 13,000 homeless people die in the US. (National Homeless)

The stats can vary year by year and change based on the current pandemic and economy, but the above stats hold weight and reveal the diversity that exists in the community. Yes, a good percentage of the unhoused deal with mental illness and drugs but its not the majority of people experiencing homelessness. Finding a solution takes a holistic approach.

Therefore, we need to drop our stereotypes that form bad policies, ineffective volunteering, and privileged charity. When this kind of misunderstanding takes place it often leads to more trauma and harm in our community. We must first see a common humanity in all people experiencing homelessness, realize the facts, and adjust our actions appropriately, and with compassion.

Below is my original post from 2012:


“SUITS” 2012 Original Post:
There is a “safe” outdoor area I stay most nights where many homeless people choose to find haven to sleep and rest.  When I started to stay there I was worried that I would stand out and look out of place.  (Are my clothes too nice?  Is my hair too short? etc…) However I was surprised to find out that fitting or blending in would be quite easy.

I really did not have to worry about looking homeless.

Come to find out there are people with nicer packs and sleeping bags than me.  There are people wearing nicer clothes than I have on.  There are men cleanly shaven and speak without stuttering.  There are women with styled hair and designer jeans.  

They are all not drunks, addicts, beggars, prostitutes, and criminals. What were these people doing here?  

A few night ago I was entering the homeless area and was walking behind a man wearing a suit, wool overcoat, dress shoes, and jewelry who was talking on his smartphone all “business like.”  I assumed he was a volunteer or visitor saying hello or helping a friend in need.  He was dressed way to nice to be sleeping outdoors.  “He has to be visiting” I assured myself. 

He was not.  He was staying the night just like me.
Maybe he is on a Lenten fast and writing a blog as well…but I imagine that’s not the case.  

Soon after he arrived…he took off his jacket, shoes, and tie right after grabbing his sleeping mat.  Then not five minutes later he quickly went right to sleep near a man with a long beard, broken shoes, and dirty clothes.  I wanted to capture the image…but I don’t have a camera.  Just a basic go phone.   

It appears this man has a job and one that requires a suit and smartphone.  (Many people who work and live here wear construction clothes, factory uniforms, and have a basic cell phone to use).  But I was surprised to see the suit…I was still in my stereotype.

Homelessness can happen to anyone.  It’s not just for people who refuse work or desire a life out on the streets.  Especially in this economy people who are not typically stereotyped as “homeless” have found themselves living on the streets or shelters as a last resort.  They are living day by day to make ends meet while still retaining some type of job.

But one that requires a suit?  I did not have that in my packing list.


Lent 2022
10 Years ago, I decided to live on the streets of San Antonio during the Lenten season to learn about homelessness in San Antonio and how I could better understand the community through acts of solidarity. I was a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, and at the time, the congregation was grappling how to serve the unhoused population at their newly opened TriPoint Community Center. I had very little understanding of the realities of homelessness and wanted to better understand the community before I formed any opinion of services. Little did I know how formative the 40+ days would end up being for me!

The journey was not perfect but It was a life changing event that unexpectedly changed the direction of my life, ministry, and calling. I have the privilege of now looking back on those days, the relationships formed, and lessons learned from a much different perspective. I am going to post each daily “40 Days of Haven” blog post during lent unedited with only some slight name changes for clarity and then post a current reflection. (In 2012, I was still protecting some identities to respect their own story.)

I hope you enjoy, read with lots of grace and forgiveness, and reflect with me during this Lenten Season of 2022. -gavin

“HUB” Day 4: 40 Days of Haven Reflection

In 2012 I was working for Trinity Baptist Church. The church had just redeveloped an abandoned Albertsons grocery store into the TriPoint Center for Life community center. It has a coffee shop, large assembly hall, smaller meeting rooms, lobby, and YMCA. It’s a great community center and the church did a wonderful job creating the spaces.

When the church first opened the center it had a computer lab near the lobby for people to use. The original intent of the computer lab was to have people, visiting the YMCA or coffee shop, check emails or get on social media. However, even in 2012 most everyone with a cell phone had access to email and social media on their smartphones and didn’t need a large computer to use. Therefore, most people who needed to use the computer lab (just like at local libraries) were the unhoused community.

At first, the church didn’t mind the mixture of people in the computer lab and celebrated the diversity (like in my 2012 post below). However, in time, the coffee shop and other stakeholders in the building began to realize that the unhoused clients were beginning to disturb others, worry paying clients, and cause problems in the building and bathrooms. Some of the complaints were valid and some were not so much but the issue created a lot of debates, discussion and replanning.

I really hoped that we could come up with a creative option for the unhoused visitors in the community center, but in the end the church decided to take out the computers and repurpose the room. These are the hard choices many places have to make when serving the broader community. Sometimes we are tempted to take the easy way out instead of working together to create something that might be transformative and work for all types of people.

TriPoint is still a great place and overall the church does so much good for the community and neighborhood.

In 2012 I asked this question:

Many people, including myself, have a hard time managing how we serve the homeless in a community center such as TriPoint (which is open to all people).  How can we serve all types of people at the same time?  It can be awkward, challenging, and painful.  How do we balance safety concerns, Christian hospitality, programs, and flow without limiting the freedom of all community members?  I would love to know your thoughts!  There are all kinds of responses to this dilemma.

I would still value your thoughts in 2022. Please feel free to comment or share on this post or social media.

During the pandemic Corazon San Antonio and The City of San Antonio DHS operated a HUB for people experiencing homelessness at the San Fernando Gym downtown. It was a huge success that lead to the recreation of the Corazon Day Center and Resource HUB as well as incubate more smaller hubs around the city.

Our previous daily resource center operated from 1999-2008. In 2008, Haven for Hope began to be built, and Corazón scaled back our services as a result because the city moved all funding to Haven. But the COVID-19 pandemic showed there was a daily need for the type of service Corazón offers, where all are welcome and there are no qualifications needed to receive services. So, our team worked with the City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services, Centro, and others to stand up a temporary daily service hub at San Fernando. The hub provided hot meals, access to primary health care, dermatology services, clothing, personal hygiene products, recovery and spiritual support, warm showers, ID recovery and creative art activities.

The HUB meets the holistic needs of those we serve, functioning as a single point of entry for clients to receive a continuum of services. Our case managers and peer recovery coaches have lived experience with homelessness and/or substance use issues. They are trained in providing culturally aware, peer-based education at each client encounter.

Since last summer, 300+ clients have received case management services and these efforts have transitioned 230+ people to shelter, housing/sober living, or detox/treatment. We know through years of engagement that many clients are resistant to accept services like transitional housing, and that an effective way to make this progression is through offering consistent, low-barrier services and building meaningful relationships.

Other key results from 2021:
1) We provided 450-600 healthy meals weekly. This includes 9,266 meals provided at the permanent Day Center in the first five months of operations, and an additional 2,000 meals provided Sundays at Travis Park Church during the same period.
2) We distributed over 5,500 hygiene kits this year, including kits distributed at the Resource HUB (in partnership with the City of San Antonio) and the Day Center. These kits included toiletry items, PPE, and sanitizing supplies.
3) Through our shared mobile shower unit partnership with Christian Assistance Ministries, we provided between 30-40 individuals with hot showers each week.
4) Our free, volunteer-led medical clinics served 781 patients in 2021, with 1,906 medical encounters. Individuals were provided with basic preventative and acute care and free medications

Offering low-barrier options for accessing essential services and building trust through a trauma- informed approach is critical to help the chronically homeless and unsheltered individuals we serve deal with crisis situations, manage chronic conditions, and take steps towards stability.


“HUB” 2012 Original Post:
Right now I am wrItng this post at my church’s TriPoint Center for Life.  A few years ago people in our church, such as Tom Hill, had a dream to develop an abandoned Albertson’s Grocery Store into an active community center.  It’s really a neat place.  Over 800 people visit the community center and YMCA…that’s pretty awesome.  Actually that’s about the same number of people who worship with us on Sundays.  It’s not the same people…but it makes you step back and examine where people are searching for community.

The Mayor of San Antonio used TriPoint to kick-off and conclude his San Antonio 2020 experiment because this place was for “all the people of San Antonio,” unlike the corporate convention centers and hotel ballrooms found all along the Riverwalk. There is a YMCA on one side of the building, a coffee shop on the other, public restrooms, and a free computer hub with 5 computers for people to use who live in this community and need a place to connect.  There is also 3 smaller meeting rooms for local organizations, non-profits, and companies to rent out to have meetings and interactive presentations.  In the back of the building is the Grantham Center, a large meeting space, where our church hosts Skate Church every Wednesdays from 4-8pm, and The Crossings worship experience every Sunday morning at 10:45am.  The Crossings is a place were broken people like me can go to worship God and experience the lavish love of Christian community.  We all are in the same boat…and need the Body of Christ.

Okay, I will stop with the plugs. Back to “The Hub” (with our free computer and receation room), and Grace Coffee Cafe at TriPoint.  For me, this is what makes TriPoint stand apart from many other community centers.  The other day, I had a meeting with a President of renowned Texas bank and other community leaders in the same area where homeless people where gathering to catch up on emails and seek community.  This was not forced…it was the place we all happened to meet.  There are not many places other than bars that can attract those two types of people.  Yesterday, Tom Hill and I were meeting and saw another CEO from San Antonio having a meeting with colleagues just outside the Hub where about 10 homeless people were watching YouTube videos, making phone calls, and listening to music.  That’s a beautiful image of Jesus Christ.  A CEO and a homeless person drinking the same cup-of-joe at TriPoint…I love it!

Lent 2022
10 Years ago, I decided to live on the streets of San Antonio during the Lenten season to learn about homelessness in San Antonio and how I could better understand the community through acts of solidarity. I was a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, and at the time, the congregation was grappling how to serve the unhoused population at their newly opened TriPoint Community Center. I had very little understanding of the realities of homelessness and wanted to better understand the community before I formed any opinion of services. Little did I know how formative the 40+ days would end up being for me!

The journey was not perfect but It was a life changing event that unexpectedly changed the direction of my life, ministry, and calling. I have the privilege of now looking back on those days, the relationships formed, and lessons learned from a much different perspective. I am going to post each daily “40 Days of Haven” blog post during lent unedited with only some slight name changes for clarity and then post a current reflection. (In 2012, I was still protecting some identities to respect their own story.)

I hope you enjoy, read with lots of grace and forgiveness, and reflect with me during this Lenten Season of 2022. -gavin