As a former businessman, did you ever envision working in the compassion industry?
For years I was asking God, “Is this all there is for me?” I was a good dad, husband and friend. I was all the things I was supposed to be. Then my job got whacked. For the prior 35 years, God had been training me for this moment. You are where you’re supposed to be. If you’re supposed to be somewhere else, you’ll be somewhere else. You’re just being trained. I never dreamed my vocation and my avocation would be the same thing. Thank you, Robert Frost. I would not have thought of that by myself.
What do people not know about caring for the homeless?
You’re not going from Point A to Point B in a straight line. You’ve got mental illness, physical infirmity and addiction. In this world, even with kids, it’s never one and done. The old methods of dealing with homelessness are not working. You’ve got to be innovative, and that’s what we do. Where the rubber meets the road is in tiny, little steps. Sweeping municipal programs don’t work because you have to have people who love these people. That’s difficult with a person who punches a clock.
(Photography by Danny Fulgencio)
How is Focus on Teens different from other charities?
Everywhere else, you’d be filling out a mountain of paperwork before they said, “No” in seven years. Everything I do is immediate. If you call me and say, “I’m stuck in my car and living in a Target parking lot,” I’m there in two hours. The food we supply, a lot of thought has gone in to it. If you’re living on a sofa, what are you going to do with pasta and dried beans? You can’t cook it. We give them things they can open and eat immediately.
What is a memory that resonates with you?
I went to one of my high schools, and the liaison said, “I really need a cane.” I got a cane and brought it to her. The following week she said, “I have something for you.” It was a handwritten note that said, “Thank you for the cane. I have sickle cell anemia. I’m homeless and not ready to confine myself to a wheelchair. I’m 18 and trying to finish my education. You’ve changed my life.” That was one of the first things that ever happened to me.
Tell me about your partnership with Eric Nadel.
When I was at Austin Street, the sole benefactor was friends with Eric. Eric called me, and he’s the nicest person. He’s been the chief fundraiser for this charity. Our annual fundraiser is his birthday bash. When you have an auction, Eric is wired in to everybody. He’s got bats, baseballs and jerseys. I was like, “This is my charity.” I knew a lady who has helped me since the beginning. She said, “I never tell anybody this, but my husband is Willie Nelson’s drummer. Maybe Willie will send me a bandana.” She sent bandanas with 10 guitars signed by Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. Carrying in that guitar was like parting the Red Sea. I was the coolest person in the universe. I had my moment.
How do you care for homeless kids during the coronavirus?
I have four families who have taken in homeless kids. I ordered them food, and immediately, the order came back canceled. I’m at the mercy of my supplier, and my supplier doesn’t have anything. I wrote to Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. The only way to effectively reach homeless kids is to open every school for food service. It has to be their home school.
What are you most proud of?
I’m not necessarily proud of anything. I haven’t helped enough kids, and that keeps me up at night. Love is the answer to everything, and it drives me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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