It was the dead of summer in 2017 when Louis Hernandez walked into the S.A. Hope Center on the West Side, angry, depressed, and frustrated. The former social worker and business owner was recovering from a battle with rectal cancer that had destroyed his previous life. Having developed peripheral neuropathy, a side effect of chemo therapy, his feet felt like they were on fire. "I couldn't walk or stand very long," said Hernandez, who's now 65. "My back was in super pain."
Hernandez simply wanted to get some water, food and clothing, and head back to the nearby homeless shelter where he was staying, which he describes as a nightmare.
Instead, he talked to Ruby Sanchez, one of the center's social workers, who asked him how his day was going.
"She was radiating this attitude towards me like she saw some kind of disciple or something," he said.
He unloaded on her.
"Do you have any idea what it's like to be homeless, to not have food, to not have shelter, to not have money, to not know what the next day's going to bring, to have everybody around you look at you like, 'Oh god, get away from me?' And then on top of that, to be recovering from cancer. I said, 'I'm sick. I have medical issues. That's how my day has been.' I shout this at her. I said, 'How has your day been?' I threw it back at her."
"'It's been the most incredible day I've had now that I've met you, Mr. Hernandez. Now I really do believe if you have God with you at your side, you can do anything.' She said, 'Look at you. In spite of your sickness, in spite of being homeless, in spite of all these issues you have against you ... in spite of all of that, you're still fighting, you're still doing for yourself, you're still trying to become self sufficient. And that is the most inspiring moment that I've had since I don't know when.' I thought, Oh my God, wow, am I doing all of this? Am I actually doing everything she says I'm doing?"
Anger turned to determination. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this is so wonderful.' I feel blessed, I feel stronger now," he said emphatically. "I feel like I am going to conquer this. I'm going to win this one way or another."
Being inside Hernandez's apartment is like being inside his head.
It's a room, really, taking only a few steps to get from the kitchen to the bed, which is partitions using a bookshelf. Inside his apartment off of Old Highway 90, every inch of these close quarters is covered with a decoration or object of necessity, whether those be framed prints of paintings, books or kitchen appliances. The kitchen in particular is a menagerie of corked jars and ceramic livestock figurines. Somewhere in there there's a Better Home & Gardens cookbook set that's been put to good use over the years.
Above the sink, there's a decorative plate that reads, “God Bless This Lousy Apartment.”
But the care he takes in decorating his space suggests he believes that statement with equal parts seriousness and jest his situations deserves.
This life he's built with guidance from the S.A. Hope Center. Around March, when the pandemic struck, his routine started to become impacted. He's legally handicapped, and struggles to take the bus to the various social services scattered throughout the West Side. He was suffering a little.
In August, he got a call from Sanchez about an organization that wanted to give him $500.
They is the Family Independence Initiative (FII), a strength-based national nonprofit that gives cash grants to families on the cusp of leaving poverty. They're really self-sustaining partnerships between the families FII chooses, which usually last about two years. When COVID-19 hit, FII started working with cities to offer emergency cash assistance.
"I thought, 'What? This is exactly what I need. I could go our and get me some groceries. I can go out and fill my refrigerator and my cupboards again, pay my bills. She said, 'Yeah, there's no strings attached. They are not asking for anything.' "
NEW CLOTHES FOR CHURCH, HE'S CATHOLIC
Hernandez said he used the $500 to buy food and clothing. "What a wonderful experience this organization does to give you this food and clothing and, along with that, give some direction and some resources ... spiritual atonement, spiritual support. All it does is it restores your soul, restores hope in your life."
Hernandez grew up in a middle class household on the South Side and attended Brackenridge High School. After graduating from college, he became a social worker working for several agencies on the West Side. This was in the 1990s.
"Back then, there were a lot of issues in the community: drop outs, pregnancy, the gangs. Those were the major social issues of the day," he said. "We were trying to address that and also the fact that our young men, there was a sociological problem going on with our young men. Many of them were just being shipped off to prison or being beaten to death by the police. Because it was customary for the Hispanic to drop out of high school and go to work, they were not trained to be competitive in their careers, so we were trying to provide a lot of training."
Here's one story. He was working as the director of social services for Habitat for Humanity in San Antonio, which wanted to build a community by the Inman Christian Center near Colima and South Brazos streets. But the volunteers didn't want to go into the neighborhood, Hernandez recalls.
"They were afraid as they took equipment in there and started to build, that they were going to be robbed by all these people," he said.
The way Hernandez remembers, he went to the gang members, sat them down, and hard a heart to heart.
"I asked them, 'Aren't you tired?'," he said. "'Every time San Antonio has something good going on, our neighborhoods are just not even looked at. Doesn't that bother you? Aren't you tired of living like we're living?' I pleaded with them. 'Here's what's going on: Habitat wants to do this, but they don't want to come here and do this, because of you.'"
He organized a meeting with the community leaders, but didn't tell them the gang members would attend. They came dressed in suits and pledged their allegiance to the project and even helped build some of the homes.
In 2005, his mother passed away and left him the family business, a landscaping and handyman service. He had to make a decision. Keep up his work on the West Side, or continue the family business.
"I couldn't let the business down, so I set aside my career and I made it grow," he said. "And it was fun. It was so much fun running a business. Every day I put in 12 to 14 hours and I enjoyed it thoroughly."
He ran the business for 10 years, until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. He went to Lubbock for treatment, and beat cancer. NAME OF HOSPITAL
When he came back to San Antonio in the summer of 2017, he was broke and he had lost touch with his family, including his X sons.
"When I got back to San Antonio, everything I had worked for had disappeared. I had nothing. I went from a person who had always lived a middle-class lifestyle, at times, very extravagant ... well, here I was with only the shirt on my back. No money, no home."
"I came to find out, two of my best friends, who had been writing to me while I was getting treatment, died."
These days, Hernandez helps shepherd seniors like him who are alone, abandoned and immobile toward social services. He wants to share what he's learned.
"Here I was toward the end of my life, and it was essentially put together all your career experience and career training and education that you’ve been able to put together throughout your whole life and put to toward this ministry," he said.
"They're the ones that are always falling through the cracks," he continued.
The way we were able to succeed was to be able to be very creative
Procuring various resources that we needed, in the comm, and those took a bit of, it was a challenge, because like i said, youre immobile, you dont have any of the resources that other SC have, they have cars, they have computers, they have children, then have other funds, that can take them and bring them. They have availability with transportation, which these people don’t. If we found a particular comm resource, the next question was, the next question was how do we get it.
What we did was explored transpoirtation
We found some transportation that they weren’t aware of, they didn’t know it existed, because there was no social worker there to help them find it, and help them explore it. All the comm resources that were in the comm
A lot of it was not only networking, but educating them
These people are not aware of, like I said, how can they know about this when there are no social service agencies, case managing their situation.
They’re not going to know it exists, they fall through the cracks all the time. So this was, they fall through the cracks, but they’re able to pick themselve sup and go about getting all the services they need, they can even advocate for themselves, and they can even coordinate the various social services that they need in order to get what they need to get them through the day or through the month
Cike needs???? Mahy of them are depressed, severely depressed. So how do you find services for psychological service, theyr’e out there, you need j
I was amazed how many of these elderly peole wanted to end their lives, they were just tired, they were tired of being alone, they were tired of being left out, tired of being neglected, forgotten, it really set
To where they just gave up
With psychiatrist service, it took care of it, for most, not all but for most
That was another service i made them aware of that they could get a hold of
The food services that are out there
Yes they were getting what i call just a basic cimple box of food. That did not resemble wha everybody else was getting in the comm
So it really wasn’t addressing their needs for fod. Peanut butter, rice and beans can only goso far
Even though youre an elderly person, doesn’t mean you like to eat
That got old, and only got so far, so was taking them out to advocate for thesmeves. And reach out for services.
Clothing they weren’t aware of… there’s a lot of people who provide clothing, really good clothes, name brand, almost new, almost off the rack clothing, that, all these people were not even aware of it. Clothes, you put on new clothes, and you go out, you feel better about yourself, it helps
Youd be surprised how many people did not want to go into thepublic, nor did they want anybody to go over and see them because of the way they looked. Again, it was howing them. Look this is where you can go and get really good clothes. And this is how you do it. They were just overwhelmed by the generosity by a lot of different groups of people who donatedgod clothing, there’s alot of places that give good clothes thar ear awful.,where they’re rags. Those are not the places i’m taling about
Methodist Healthcare Center is one of those people
They have a rummage sale once a month
Dress pants and
People see me dressed up in that and think i went to macy’s or JC Pennys and went and bought me all these clothes and that i look so outstanding, nad it’s not, it’s from there.
It’s helping them with that, it’s also giving them friendship.
They want to write a letter to one of their relatives they ahven’t seen in years, a lot ofthem don’t know how to write, a lot of them can no longer write, so i do that, i read for them, their letters, as well as books. It also meant, coordinating services with the library or people who gave away books, and lot of them who couldn’t read liked for somebody to read to them, so i did that
Finances sometimes kind of took itout of me, i wasn’t able sometimes to do as much or get around as much because i didn’t have the funds myself to get to the houses, and also coordinate with them. It took money for a lot of the transportation costs, and just basic office equipment. That kind of stuff.
2017, about, let’s see, around the first thanksgiving, Nov
I dont hae any assistance, but i sure would like to recruit volunteers and that kind of stuff to get the word out, there’s like i said, there’s al ot of people in my situation that fit this mold that i created, there’s a lot of them out there, and it’s just simply by getting the word out, by ognig to the S centers, going to those centers, and letting them know, look, i’m here, i can become your buddy. I call it being their buddy tot hem
As far as the info, about al the resources that are out there, all that can be given to them, and then show thenmake contacts, how to coordinate, how to advocate, they got it.
Second phase is being a buddy to them, doing the letter writing, reading whatever kind of mail
Calling them on the holidays, and then the special days, like their birthday, the anniversary of them or their wife, when their wife or husband passed away, simply little things like that.
Spend 15-30 minute son the phone, maybe an hour, talking to them
I’d say i have about 30 people
Right now, i’ve gotten them all riledup about the elections, they’re all riled up about the elections, which is i’m happy to hear that. Because it tells me they got something on their mind and they’re fascinated about something, and something is important to them in their lives again.
No, it doesn’t officially have a name, but i call it the Saint Sabas Movement, named it after a saint that was the saint of my son, my oldest son, and it’s Saint Sabas
Mt Olives, between that and jerusalem, there’s a monastery there, the second oldest in the world, and it’s named after Saint Sabas, i always tell people, lets take it to saint Sabas
HOW GET NAMES
I talk to the directors of the few centers I’ve gone through
Since i hurt my hup in 2018, it put a dent in that, where i’m not able to go the centers, like I used to, but i was, and what i would do, i would ask the directors of the centers, if i could speak to them about my exp with cancer and how it lead to this ministry i do
They say yeah sure that would be inspiring
That’s how i make my outreach
Started out with Madonna, and ended up leaving there because I had issues with the way, again the food distribution was taking place
Also went to the Good Samaritan Center, and then I went to House of Neighborly Services, St. Timothy’s, and I was about to talk to the people at the Cisneros Center, and that’s when I had my accident.
But Ihave a list of all the adult daycare centers, and senior ceners, I want to go visit. As I’m able to regain my strength and walk around more and more, I’m goig to be able to get on the VIA Trans bus, and go to those center, and start again. It’s only goig to cost me $4-$6 a trip.
Each trip I make, if i do two in a week, it gets a little expensive, now youre talking about 8-12 dollars in a week, in am onth it totals up to 50-60 and I’m on a fixed income, but I’m praying I find a way where I can get charitable contributions some how. From the public. For expenses like that.
PP —— i got a place to stay, i got out, i got my finances together, i got healthcare together, i got my food supply all lined up, i had met these four goals of necessity that normally, and i knew this as a social worker, this takes a few years to accomplish. and it was done all within six months. the spiritual fuel that ruby sanchez kept fueling me with, just always letting me know the power and the spiriti of god with with me and iwa s going to conquer this and i was going to be ok
three years have gone by for a man who only had a shirt, and you can see. it's not a palace, but it's a nice place for me