Hello. I’m Bryan, a friend of Gavin’s and since Gavin is on his retreat he asked me to post some thoughts for a few days. I went two weeks ago to San Antonio and spent two cold nights with him at the outdoor shelter. I parked my car at his house and, dressed in old jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, I began walking several blocks to the bus stop to go meet him at the shelter.
Walking away from my car, I felt stripped of my identity as a car-owning, house-renting, working individual. I tried to imagine what this identity shift would be like if it really occurred, how I might be perceived differently by those driving by and others I might encounter, and imagine possibly what it might feel like to be homeless.
First, I felt shut out. Numerous restaurants and storefronts along the way had “OPEN” signs in the window. Having money is a rite of passage into these buildings and knowing how unwelcome the homeless are in places of business , the storefront may as well have read “CLOSED.”
Getting onto the bus, I needed to ask where the shelter’s stop was, but surprisingly I found myself a little embarrassed to ask. I figured the young middle-class-appearing bus driver might see me as homeless, judge me for that, and make assumptions about who I am and how I got to that point in my life. It was quite striking how easily people’s perception of you can change and what assumptions people could make about your background and identity just thinking you are homeless.
I saw Methodist hospital just a few blocks away, and was comforted by its appearance initially. The church-affiliated hospital stood out as a place of welcome and comfort as I reflected on all that the cross on the building represented about God’s love and care for the disenfranchised and those at the margins of our communities. It was a warm and inviting aura given off by the building’s facade. Later that night I saw another church-affiliated hospital and a couple of churches. Each building spoke a word of welcome and acceptance indifferent to my status in life. But I also knew that while hospitals do a fair amount of charity care, non-funded patients are often less welcome in private hospitals, and I felt like my presence there was not welcome. Two days before that I was an employee working in Methodist hospital in Houston, and now it might be looked down upon if I entered the hospital for a bathroom break or some brief warmth in the cold night. Seeing the churches, I knew that despite the warm welcome the church façade was exuding, too often those who are homeless are not welcomed with open arms and feel unwelcome in our churches. While these cold stone façades communicated surprising warmth, I was sad that the warm bodies within the buildings often don’t communicate the same welcome. How easily one’s status and identity can change by virtue of not having a place to call home.