Bunk

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Friday nights are good nights. For one, I can spend the entire day on the streets meeting new people, meeting up with friends, and focus on my Lenten practice.

The last few weeks have been more intense on the streets, and it was good to have a fairly relaxing day.

Another reason I like Fridays is that I get to attend Taking it to the Streets under the 9th Street Bridge. This outreach has become my favorite homeless ministry since I have begun my journey over 6 weeks ago. Church Under the Bridge San Antonio makes you attend the sermon before you eat..but this ministry allows you to eat…then have the option to have personal bible studies with small groups or a volunteer.

Both ministries have good reasons for their church’s mission practice…but I, personally, like the latter. Making Jesus compulsory seems to be slightly missing the point…but both are good!

This Friday, a friend of mine, Valarie Moss, was there serving as a volunteer as she does most weeks. After dinner was served, she had the opportunity to meet one on one with a homeless man she met at the dinner. They read scripture out loud, talked openly, and then prayed together. It was a beautiful sight. It was not staged, not overdone, and not required for food. It was very authentic.

Valerie is my hero of the day.

Plus, the church that was serving the food and clothes brought a BBQ grill and cooked grilled chicken breasts. It was fantastic! I love when churches bring their best when serving the poor. Not only was the food good…I could also see that the church volunteers were having a blast cooking the food together. They were bonding as well.

Since working last Saturday, I have saved an extra ten dollars from my 8 hours of cutting red bell peppers. I wanted to use it for a good experience with others.

The other night I learned about a men’s dormitory called the “Bunk House,” where many men sleep and socialize. It’s not a shelter, it’s not a halfway house, and it’s not a church. It’s more like a hostel for men who are homeless.

The cost is $10 a day. Or $60 a week. You get a bunk, sheets, showers, laundry, locker room, tv room, and outdoor patio where you can drink, eat, and smoke.

The quality is not the best…but the freedom is amazing.

I had just over $10 so I could get one night at the bunk house.

After checking in, I was assigned bunk 27. Top bunk. The mattress was torn and plastic like…but once I put my sheets on…it was all good!

Before I went to bed, I made sure to go out to the patio and visit with some of the men. The patio was quite crowded because of the weekend, but a fun environment. Men were laughing, shooting the breeze, watching sports, and even giving haircuts for free. I was tempted to get one…but I passed ūüôā

The men were all nice. All asked me
questions, gave me advice about where to find work (most of these men have more stable

jobs) and told me their own story. The spirit was much different than the shelter. A hard working man feel…like a fire station bunk house.

It’s surprising how much 10 bucks can get you!

In the dorm room, many of the men who sleep on the bottom bunks wrap the frame with flags, sheets, or blankets to create a fort like atmosphere inside. You can tell they want their privacy in the cabin like room. It was not too different from Summer Camp.

I slept really well at the Bunk House. Despite the smell, (it was like sniffing a giant dirty sock), the place was cool and comfortable. Well…the snoring could get bad with so many¬†men in one room…but I had Paul Hoodless’ earplugs on standby.

Went to bed at 10pm…Woke up at 6am. Oh…by the way…check out is at 6. Kind of a bummer.

You will need to spend 10 dollars more to sleep in!

The price you pay for a bunk.

Now I need to find another job…

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Isaiah 40:28-31

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.
(The Message)

Jesus

Matthew 8:20–“But Jesus said to him: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.'”

Jesus was homeless. At least for three years he had no “home” to speak of… He traveled a lot. Gleaned food from farms and spoke kindly of the poor.

Jesus was homeless.

It was not because he was lazy, mentally ill, crazy, or criminal… He had a calling. To give it all up! To become a man. To experience life with us, who are the lowest of the low compared to his own divinity. Born not in a home…or inn…but a stable.

God became homeless.

Jesus had 12 guys follow him around the land with no real place to lay their heads. These 12 were not the best students in town…but more like the worst. They were Fisherman who could not even cast nets properly….A Tax Collector nobody liked…a zealot…common workers…and a traitor.

They all gave up their jobs (and families) to follow Jesus. They became homeless to follow our Lord… To experience life together… they remained homeless until death. There was no earthly end to their lent. Most, if not all, died as Martyrs.

They should have written a book about it.

Seriously, how would we treat Jesus today? Where would he sleep? Where would he glean? How would he be arrested? Who would get mad at him? Who would come to his aid?

Matthew 25:34-35 “Then the King will say to those at His right, ‘Come, my Father’s blessed ones, receive your inheritance of the Kingdom which has been divinely intended for you ever since the creation of the world. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was homeless, you gave me a welcome.'”

He reminded us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. There is a church who allow people to live in it… now that is hearing and then doing.

My church leaders always say our large building “sits begging” for use most nights. How about allowing people to sleep there who are in need?

There’s tons of space…That goes begging.

Leviticus 19:9-10 “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”

Matthew 12:1 “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them…”

How do we, like the farmers, as blessed people recognize what is enough and give back the remainder?

We need to make more room.
Not create less space.

It’s all God’s anyway.

We need to follow Christ.
Not just know about Him.

We need to experience life together…
Even if that means becoming homeless.

Ezekiel 22:29-31

The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God.”

Detained

(Bridge Night #1, Part 3)

Small Change!

It’s amazing how something as simple as a smoke…can change someone’s attitude from rage and aggressive to calm and relaxed.

The night continued….

After meeting my new friends, we searched for Georgia and Jesse. We went under the bridge and could not find them. Cowboy told me that they were most likely sleeping between the two highways (in the center median) where many plants and bushes have been planted along Interstate 10. If the weather is nice…many homeless citizens sleep in between the highways in the bushes.

I called out for Georgia and Jesse and eventually found Jesse in a patch of bushes laying in his sleeping bag. (Georgia was out with his wife….who lives in a shelter near by…) Jesse allowed me to lay my bag in this area…and fall asleep. But first, I had to find something to lay on. After searching the area….I found a piece of flat styrofoam and torn tent material to lay my sleeping bag on so it would remain fairly clean and dry during the night.

I laid down in the bushes, between the highways…about 5 feet from the westbound traffic and a bridge wall. Cars and trucks were passing by constantly. It was loud…but not nearly as painful as the train horns…I could get used to the sound of the cars passing by…it was soothing in a strange way. Despite the location, it was very private. Hopefully, I would be safe from the traffic!

After laying down for a while, Jesse told me he could not sleep…so we walked around together and talked about life. I gave him a smoke. He showed me more places to stay near or under the city bridges….and after a while…we got tired, returned to our spot, and went to sleep.

The ground was hard. I had very little padding. Throughout the night my side or arm would go numb due to the hardness of the ground beneath my body. But for the most part, it was a good night sleep compared to the outdoor shelter. I could sleep as late as I wanted…and not be disturbed by an authority in the morning telling me what to do…

I was wrong.
I would get to know another type of authority that is not the staff at the outdoor shelter.

Around 7:50am…I was awakened by a boot nudging my sleeping bag and a man yelling… “Wake up…everyone up…Wake up…everyone up.”

At first, I thought is was Georgia playing a joke on us. He is known to pull pranks on his friends…but as I looked up…it was not Georgia…but 3 police officers in uniform, shorts, and boots. They were not happy to see us…

“Get up…stand up…let me see some ID,” they asked.

I was tired…and moving slowly. It was slightly confusing…but the cops didn’t care. They wanted us up and moving. I thought it might be a dream….but the cold air made it a reality. He kept telling me to move faster….and I told him “I’m moving as fast as I can…”

I got up…showed my ID to my officer, and he pulled me aside and searched my bag. He did not have a warrant…but all he found was a flashlight, underwear, toothbrush, Bible, and a pack of cigarettes. The bag was “clean.” (except the underwear) But the cop found one more thing….

My iPhone.

The cop asked me why I had an iPhone as I unlocked it and told him I owned it. He was confused. He asked me, “You can afford an iPhone?…..how?”

“I have a job” I said.

“Where do you work?” he questioned me more…

“I work at a local church near downtown…” I responded.

He was shocked and asked me if I was doing this as ministry….I said to him…”I guess you could say that.” Then the cop took my ID and got my SS# and took it to the make shift command under the bridge where the other cop cars were. The cops were a mixture of bicycle cops (the one’s who grabbed us out of the area along the highway) and patrol cars (the one’s gathering info).

Another cop escorted us out of the bushes and made us stand along the wall….in a line….and wait to be called over to the police car (or interviewed by the main officer).

Here is the strange thing that I did not notice the night before….there were more homeless people sleeping in the bushes (near or under the bridge) than I thought— about 30 in my area. (The police raided the entire I-10 stretch that morning…along with some other smaller bridges…many of my friends got detained by the police that morning.) At my spot, it was like the baseball players coming out of the corn fields in the movie Field of Dreams. (Check out the photo.)

We waited by the wall for quite sometime. One by one we were questioned and given a warning for trespassing. Some people in the bushes were in more trouble than others…(drug use, etc.) …although I saw no one arrested and taken away to jail.

Most of my friends gave the cops fake names and SS#’s because they refused to be searched without a warrant. I gave the cops my ID because they saw my wallet in the sleeping bag…and I had little fear of my police record. The cops took your information and placed you on a city list that shows you have been detained and been given a warning for trespassing. (Although there are no signs and information stating this.)

Trespassing is the crime. It does not hold much water in court. However, many of the homeless cannot afford good lawyers to help them fight the vagueness of the ordinance.

I asked an officer “Who owns the bridge?”….and the cop told me….”The State of Texas.”
I thought that was a funny response. I even chuckled at their reasoning of ownership. They also told me “vagrants, the homeless, and bums” cause many problems in this community. It seems so simple….but it’s not. I wanted to tell the cops that their names were actually Georgia, Jesse, Blake, William, Robert, Jackson, Bolton, and Samantha….but I use the same language too. We all do. Dang you, hypocrisy!

Nevertheless, it begs us to question this idea: When we talk about “issues of the streets”….we are talking about problems beyond just homelessness…there are gangs, basic criminals, mailmen, and teenagers on that list too. Most of these citizens have actual homes. They are not always homeless…But who takes most of the heat?

Most of these homeless are just trying to find a place to sleep…with freedom.

They pulled me aside and asked me more about where I lived….(They saw on my ID that I lived only a few blocks away). I don’t know if they believed it…but I was not too concerned about what they thought. I was telling the truth.

After they put me on the “black list,” I was told to pack my things and walk back to the outdoor shelter that is run by the city. I began to wonder…”Was that the main reason for the raid….to get us back in the shelter? Where they can control our actions?

It’s a complex issue.

The cops were tough…but they had grace. Nobody got into too much trouble. (Nevertheless, many of my homeless friends have a much stronger opinion about the matter.) They have good points…but I am still discerning the event that took place Tuesday morning by the I-10 bridge.

If there is a next time…I will be arrested or given a ticket and made to go to court.

Now, off to church…as a pastor working in the same neighborhood where the bridge exists.
End of first night under the bridge.

(This issue has been hard to write about…and has taken me a week to put down on paper. And I will most likely make adaptations to it throughout the next few days. This problem of homelessness in cities is multifaceted… Both sides of the argument have good points.

Position A. Homelessness is annoying, unclean, and possibly dangerous. It leads to other civil problems and creates issues for local businesses and tourism. It is not a good “image” for the city. It also is attached to drugs, alcohol, and sex….(but so is High School…but we still have that!)

Position B. Making homelessness a crime on public land goes against basic freedom and liberty. It can be unlawfully inforced and people can be prosecuted with no means to hire good lawyers.

Position C. Is there a more creative way to use the Gospel to handle both A & B?

Questions….please don’t be afraid to post your opinion…. I won’t get my feelings hurt!

I want to hear from YOU! So comment now!!!!!

Main Qurstion ***Why do you think many of the homeless choose to live under bridges or in other places around the city streets?***

1. What do you think of the trespassing law….and how Texas is the “owner” of the land?
2. Why do you think the police are enforcing the “law?” Should they in this way?
3. Why do the police wait until the morning to detain the homeless vs the night before?
4. How has homelessness affected your neighborhood, place of business, and church?
5. Can the police search my bag without a warrent?
6. How do we often direct and control “vagrancy” in our cities?
7. Do you believe the city creates stricter laws if there are non-profits in the city (that reach out to homeless) so they can advance their agenda of redirecting homeless behavior?

Lucky Strike

(Bridge Night #1, Part 2)

The man screamed, ‚ÄúHey you‚Ķyeah you‚Ķwhere the hell do you think your going!‚ÄĚ

My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.

Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..

I was in the thick of it now!

The man kept yelling at me to stop walking away from him. ¬†At this point, I really was scared for my¬†safety…so I kept walking away. ¬†As I kept walking, he started to run…and for some reason…I didn’t run. ¬† When I looked back, I realized there were more people there than just this man…four to be exact, 3 men, 1 woman. ¬†They were all intent on talking to me…So, I turned around to face their questions.

As the man approached me, he said, “What were you doing coming into this area and sneaking around all¬†suspicious-like…I have never seen you around here before.” ¬†It was then I was almost certain it was not Christi’s boyfriend…but I was not 100% positive…

“Just looking for my friends, Georgia and Jesse” I said back calmly but certain. “They told me to meet them around here for the night…”

The man paused and¬†believed me…”They sleep around here most nights…yes…but why were you looking into our area?”

“I thought you might be them just hanging at the park…and when I realized you were not them…I walked away…no worries man…I am not here to interrupt your night.” I responded while trying to stay cool and collected.

“My name is Cowboy” he¬†aggressively¬†stated. “I can be your best friend…or your worst nightmare…If you don’t cross me….I won’t cross you…I will even give you the shirt off my own back…I can be that good to you…but don’t you ever cross me…got that? ¬†This is Jackson, Bolton, and Samantha…they are always here with me…making sure nobody causes trouble or interferes with our business…”

It felt like I was in a bad movie¬†scene…but this conversation was real as can be…

Despite his lecture and my response, Cowboy still didn’t trust me…and was very forceful. ¬†So, I resorted to my go to “trick of the trade” when I want to talk to someone I don’t know or calm someone down.

Cigarettes.

I have learned that if you offer someone on the streets a¬†cigarette…they always accept and friendship can develop…and most of the time calm the person down. ¬†It has worked many times for me over the past 38 days.

I know…it’s crazy. ¬†I don’t even smoke…

A youth pastor passing out tobacco. ¬†I might get fired! ¬† Well…

I’m not that worried about what my church will think. ¬†I work at a church that still allows it’s staff to smoke outside on campus. ¬†There is even a large plastic cigarette container outside our youth ministry entrance for employees to take a smoke break. ¬†I even went to a University and Divinity School that was funded by the largest¬†tobacco estate in the nation. ¬†Duke….who owned American Tobacco…¬† Mr. Duke and I helped fund one of the largest church movements in the nation!

Cigarettes¬†cause major problems…and I find it¬†disgusting. ¬†They are also very¬†expensive. ¬†Most people on the street don’t buy¬†Marlboro Reds…but they buy the cheap brands at the bottom of the gas station shelf.

After I passed out my cigarettes…small changes took place in our conversation. ¬†The talk became calm and friendly. ¬†After the break, ¬†they helped me find my¬†friends…and even said they would take me to Church Under the Bridge the next night to get some good food.

Small Change!

It’s amazing how something as simple as a smoke…can change someone’s attitude from rage to relaxed and calm.

The night continued….

Abuse

(Bridge Night #1, Part 1)

Since returning back from my youth retreat, and during the second part of my journey, I have slept more “on the streets” rather than staying at the outdoor shelter. After weeks at the shelter, I have made really good friends around town…learning from their experiences has made me more educated about the street life and they taught me how to manage my time and decisions.

Life away from the shelter has been a nice change…but also a challenge. The streets are much more difficult to manage and personally control, but the increased freedom is nice. (Although there are limitations to that freedom and liberty depending on city ordinances.)

I have stayed in sheds, barns, and campsites, but until last Monday, I have not fully slept under a city bridge. I needed to experience this for multiple reasons.

After I finished Edison Young Life Club on the South Side of San Antonio, I planned on finding some of my friends who sleep under a bridge near a city park. Sleeping with friends is much safer and informative…

My plan was to walk through the park (near the bridges) around 9:15pm, find my friends, and learn where to stay. In the end, if I could not find them…I would keep walking to the outdoor shelter and make it in before curfew at 10pm.

A full proof plan. Now I had to enact that plan.

I arrived at the park at 9:30pm after checking out a few bridges around the area. No sign of Georgia and my friends.

I had a choice… Go through the park to get to the outdoor shelter or take the main road. (Both ways were paths my friends took before…it was a 50/50 chance to find them.)

Something told me to go into the park…and turn left…so I did.

100 yards into the park, I saw two shadowy figures, who could have been my friends, sitting on a park bench. As I got closer, I realized it was a random boyfriend talking with his girlfriend…but they were not talking…they were arguing.

In fact, they were arguing a lot.

The arguing increased to verbal fighting and right before I could move any closer…the boyfriend spat in the face of his girlfriend and walked away yelling and screaming.

I was frozen. (This all happened within seconds) I said to her silently, “Please don’t chase him or provoke him even more,” but immediately she ran to him, pushed him from behind, and he fell to the ground. Just as I started to get closer to step in…he got up and started punching her multiple times and hitting her over the head with a bottle.

It happened that quickly.

My mind was racing…but all of the sudden I found myself charging the dude and getting ready to take him out. ¬†I kept yelling… “Back off!”

Mind you, I never have been in a fight.
Not even growing up. ¬†When I was a kids, I always hated play fighting or wrestling….I was the kid who always got hurt.
But tonight, I was ready to go!

Come what may.

Before I could reach him and take him down…he ran away.

I was surprised. Even impressed.
I am not that intimidating.

However, I should not be flattered.
Most abusive men are cowards.
He was a coward. No room to take on another man…just the woman.

When I approached her, she was crying and badly beaten. I said to her, “you are safe now, you can trust me…I am safe.”

Now, my statement made sense to me…I knew I would not hurt her. Nevertheless, as you might guess, she was not too sure about me…and I don’t blame her.

After some time talking…I told her I was a pastor. “You are?” she asked back.

“Yep, I know it’s crazy…but I really am….and I can help you.”

“That means you were suppose to be right here at this very moment.” she replied.

“That’s what I am afraid of,” I said back in totally honesty, “let’s get you some help.”

She was bleeding from the head quite badly. There was a lot of blood. She was also getting dizzy. So I helped her to the main street and had her sit by a tree.

She debated going to the hospital or to¬†a women’s shelter. It was her choice. I told her I would do exactly want she wanted and sought to find the safest option. ¬†But she was hesitant to¬†receive¬†any¬†official¬†help from a shelter or a hospital. ¬†She was afraid they would ask more questions at the hospital and get her¬†boyfriend¬†in trouble, but I said they will ask questions anywhere… ( I really didn’t know this…but I was assuming as much without knowing all the facts…)

She eventually chose the hospital. I called my friend Emily to pick us up and take us to the hospital. Emily was gracious and kind to help. ¬†I had to pull out my iPhone to call her…and locate exactly where I was standing. ¬† Randomly enough, my friends pulled up to me on their bikes to check out all the¬†commotion. ¬†They knew who the woman was…and her boyfriend….(actually common law husband they said)… They were gracious to help for a minute, comfort her, and help her get situated in my friends car.

(I was afraid they would be confused about my iPhone…but they have never mentioned it since….I guess it didn’t bother them I had a smartphone or a friend to call who has a nice car…)

Emily and I drove her to the closet hospital in downtown San Antonio. ¬†As I checked her in at the ER…I realized the nurses had to assume I might be the abuser…it was an awkward feeling… I have never been treated like an abuser before…it was a strange feeling. ¬†It made me think about the men who really treat women in such awful ways….

After a few minutes of observation, the nurses realized I was helping her and assisted her to the ER…so they became more accommodating to my presence.

As we were waiting for her doctor, she told me her life story.

Her name was Christi. She was born in¬†Abilene, Texas. Her father beat her as a child and her mom taught her to sell, cook, and do meth as a teenager. ¬†By 16, she had already been raped multiple times, grew accustomed to abusive boyfriends and family members, and learned how to live life on the streets to survive. ¬†At 17, Christi left¬†Abilene¬†and began living on and off the streets in South Texas. The drug use intensified, the violence got worse, and she went to jail for cooking and selling Meth—-the trade her mother taught her back in Abilene.

My heart was breaking as she told me her story.
All I could do was listen and pray.

My mom was raised in¬†Abilene, TX. ¬†Christi and my mom went to the same high school. (Obviously years apart….)¬†¬† My grandfather worked as a pastor and taught in the Bible Department at Abilene Christian University for decades. ¬†I went to Abilene almost every year at Christmas and Summer breaks (staying at the Embassy Suites near the mall she would sell most of her drugs) to visit my mom’s parents. ¬†I don’t know why I was surprised to hear she was from Abilene…but all I kept thinking about was my mom. ¬†She is a woman too…

Also, it was not comforting to know that Christi would most likely go back to the same guy after all of this was over. ¬† This broke my heart even more. ¬†I wanted to control her¬†decisions¬†for her…. Sure, I was helping for now…but I could not change the entire situation.

The nurses checked her vitals, cleaned her wounds, and a few hours later discharged her back into the streets. ¬†The¬†Hospital cared for Christi well…but they have no authority over the abuse…¬†so after the care was completed Emily took her to the indoor shelter where Christi stays most nights.

The time was 11:45pm.

Bad News. ¬†I was way past my curfew…so I needed to get back and find my friends. ¬†(They were nice¬†enough to point out the general area where they would be sleeping under the bridge when they ran into me and Christi before we went to the¬†hospital.)¬†¬†I was glad Emily was there to take Christi back so I could find my place before the night got even later.

As I walked back to the park…I realized there was a good chance I could run into¬†Christi’s¬†boyfriend or common law husband. ¬†So, I prepared for the worst. ¬†I didn’t want to see him…but kicking his tail was an emotion that was real inside my soul. ¬†It gets ugly out there. ¬†Even for a passive pastor.

As I entered the park again (trying to get to the bridge where my friends sleep), I saw a man at the same park bench. ¬†I hesitated, backtracked, and tried to discreetly take a different route…but before I could find another way….

The man screamed, “Hey you…yeah you…where the hell do you think your going!”

My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.

Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..

I was in the thick of it now!