VIA

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Public buses seem unimportant and outdated in today’s society.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.)

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Rain

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

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.

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 delimma.  Share your thoughts on this board or email me at gavin@trinitybaptist.org.

Hub

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!

Many people, including myself, have a hard time managing how we serve the homeless in a community center such as TriPoint.  How can we serve all types of people at the same time?  It can be awkward, challenging, and painful.  How do we balance safety, 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 delimma.  Share your thoughts on this board or email me at gavin@trinitybaptist.org.

6:30 came early again.  And the trains are still very loud.

Rodeo

Night 2 was interesting.  In a way it was bi-polar.  In a way it was the same.

After waking up at 6:30am by loud trains and the sunrise I rode the VIA bus to work, took a shower at our YMCA, went to a San Antonio Youth Ministers meeting, and then back to work.  It felt all too normal.  Am I really homeless?

In the evening I attended a Pastoral Staff function where one of our kindest church members, The Harrison’s, gave the Pastoral Staff great seats to the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo.  This family is amazing.  They are involved in our church, they are funny, and they know how to have a good time!  The problem was me…I only had 8 dollars to spend for food that day.  At the AT&T Center concession stand…that’s tough.  I got some really crazy looks from my staff when I told them I could not eat past my limit.  They felt concerned.  They felt bad.  They wanted to feed me.  It was awkward.  (Nothing is worse than a pious minister during lent.)

So we lived in that tension.

Robert Potter and others gave me some peanuts.  I felt that was okay.  And actually kept a few for later in the night!  Am I really homeless?

Alan Jackson played a good concert.  All the good classics.  From the 9/11 Ballad to “Chattahoochee.”   It was good to sit next the Harrison’s listening to good ole country music.  In Texas, country music has no economic boundaries.  Both the poor and the rich like a good ole country beat.

Alan ended past 10:00pm…which is not unusual for a concert.  However, it is when the safe homeless area in San Antonio closes it’s gate at 10:00pm.  I missed my chance for a safe night sleep outside.  So I had to find a place to crash.  I looked at one building…it was way to bright.  I looked at another…it was crazy damp.   So I finally crashed in a dark corner of a building and fell asleep.  It was 85 degrees when I went to bed…it was 48 when I awakened.  Not too bad…but cold enough to keep waking up because of the temperature change and the cold front wind.  Every time I heard the wind blow the leaves on the ground I thought it was rain and got worried about getting wet.

From Rodeo to the side of the road.  Kinda Bi-Polar…but it ended the same way.  6:30 sunrise.

Noises

Last night was my first night outside my home.  Starting at 2:15 yesterday afternoon I can no longer use my home to live in, use any of it’s amenities, or sleep indoors for the 40 days of lent.  My car is now parked at work, and I take the VIA bus when I need to get to church or go somewhere personal.  My income is now only 10 dollars a day.  

My journey has been transformed from an idea and into a reality.  It’s much less cute.  

Because of my past experiences and lack of true homelessness, last night seemed like a camping experiment.  (Similar to the first night in college…it felt like a summer camp even though it was really school.)  The start of the evening was not much different than camping with friends for the weekend like I used to do in High School with Bob, Kevin, Ryan, Camilo, Jeremy and Patty.  I had all the same stuff… a large camouflage backpack, a change of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a jacket inside.  The night appeared somewhat normal until I tried to go to bed.  There was something keeping me awake…

Then it hit me…or my ears.

The first thing I noticed was the amount of noise the city produced when I was silent.  (Patty used to make noises when we went camping…but not like this!….fyi Patty is a guy…I have received questions about this!)  It was strange to hear even though I have lived in downtown San Antonio for almost 4 years.  There were people talking, people laughing, cars honking, sirens blaring, and trains going by making all kinds of crazy sounds. (Those train horns are loud! It’s amazing how much noise there is out on the streets…from large noises caused by the freeway or a person just walking by while talking on their cell phone. There is very little privacy…Even if you are all alone.

I met a man named Freddie.  He helped me figure out how to get to the bus stop and find the best route to take to where I work.  He was extremely kind and easy to talk to.  After our discussion about homelessness, he said, “Hey, we do what we can for each other…we are all in the same boat together.”  I enjoy people like Freddie….Always ready to help others in the same boat.  And I am only a temporary passenger.

Some people I met have been living on the streets for years and seem to be caught into a pattern of chronic homelessness for a multitude of reasons.  Some people I have met have been homeless just a few nights and feel very confident that their plight is only temporary.  They act like they have everything under control despite their obvious setback.  I pray this is true, but I fear that it is not. Homelessness comes in all shapes and sizes. Despite my desire to figure all of this out.  I know the problem of homelessness is larger than just one noisy night.

Night #1 may be over…but there are many more nights to go. Where will this boat go?