Gavin describes his friend as “the closest thing you could get to the stereotypical homeless guy.” William, now in his 50s, has been homeless since high school. He earns money through odd jobs and, until meeting Gavin, didn’t go to shelters or ministries, believing they wouldn’t help him since he was an alcoholic. He met Gavin through the community library’s free computer lab. He made his home in an abandoned shack, his only shelter from the South Texas wind, hail and thunderstorms.
It was during one of these storms that Gavin sought out his fellow homeless buddy from the computer lab and asked where he was staying. William invited Gavin to spend the night with him in the shack.
“Homeless people don’t really reveal where they stay,” Gavin said. “He had to really trust me to let me stay there. I realized I was not just staying at some ‘place.’ I was actually in William’s home. That’s probably debatable by government standards, but for him, it was his home. He let me stay there amidst his privacy, amidst his stuff, and make it through a really bad night.”
Despite this realization, Gavin said it took him months after the Lenten project was over to feel comfortable inviting William to spend the night at his house. Over time, however, occasional visits and showers turned into shelter. Now, William has a space of his own on their front porch, complete with bed, lamp and a safe place to store his few possessions. But it was a journey of learning to trust and intentionally forge a relationship.
It began with a Willie Nelson concert.
Gavin, his roommate Kelley Hubler, and William donned their plaid shirts and jeans for the occasion. Gavin knew that William was a fan since they had sung Willie Nelson songs together around a campfire during the Lenten project. After that, he said he would take William to a concert if Willie Nelson ever came to town.
The concert went late so Gavin and Kelley invited William to spend the night. Soon, this “stereotypical homeless man” according to outward appearances, was coming over more frequently. Hospitality became more than a theoretical idea to Gavin and Kelley.
“I’ve gotten better, but the great thing in Romans – where it says be sincere, cling to what is good, hate what is evil – the last of that passage, it says practice hospitality. Practice is a unique word. It means you can mess up. It means you’re not perfect but we aim for hospitality. That’s what we are doing as Christians and all the journeys that we take in life. We’re practicing our hearts toward hospitality, toward loving thy neighbor, so therefore I’m still practicing.”
Though William is welcome to sleep inside if he wants (and does on cold winter nights), his independence and comfort are most at home on the porch. Still, Gavin and Kelley said they treat him as they would any other roommate without patronizing him or worrying about him when he isn’t around.
“It all goes back to treating people how I would want to be treated and I hope that someday, if I ever need that help, that someone would do that for me,” Kelley said. “It’s not a difficult thing. William’s a person. He does nice things for us; we do nice things for him.”
Gavin said he was humbled by Kelley’s quick agreement when he mentioned inviting William to stay more permanently.
“So here’s this minister who lived on the street for 40 days, which led him to this decision over six months, then my roommate [who is not involved in church], it took him five seconds to be more Christ-like than me,” Gavin said.
Both Gavin and Kelley emphasized it is about mutual respect and building an equal, healthy friendship over time.
“I’m not trying to get William out of homelessness. I’m not sure if it’s possible,” Gavin said. “I’m going to love him regardless of whatever decision he makes because I’m his friend. If he receives a true friendship and is treated by people around him like a true human being, that gives him a much more enjoyable life and a fulfilled life than somebody who treats him like a number or a statistic. If William is still homeless at the end of his life, the good news is, I’ve invested in William. That doesn’t change. ”