Although I was born and raised in San Antonio and have lived here for the past 48 years, it wasn’t until the last year that I really got to know my city. I’ve known the rich history and culture and the big, small-town feel all my life, but I didn’t know the depth and breadth of the need of my fellow San Antonians on any given day.

Until I walked through the gates of Haven for Hope for the first time, I had lived a sheltered and naïve life. While we were not rich by any means — and likely closer to poverty than I realized — I never knew how many people end up homeless every year. I was ignorant at best and had no idea that there are more than 8,000 people who experience homelessness each year in my city. I am not sure I really looked homelessness truly square in the face until I walked across this campus. 

Like many of you, I would see the guy panhandling on the corner and those walking the streets of downtown and think of them as the faces of homelessness. Boy, was I off base. What I learned was that the true faces of homelessness are faces just like mine.

The true faces of homelessness are the faces of the single mother who desperately tries to make ends meet but falls short, the face of the young adult who aged out of foster care and at 18 years old found himself on the streets, the face of the middle-aged woman fleeing domestic violence looking for a safe place to stay and the face of the 50-year-old man who suffered abuse as a child and turned to drugs to erase the trauma, only to land in prison for things he never dreamed he was capable of.

It’s these faces and so many more that walk the campus of Haven for Hope every day. Their faces are just like mine and yours but with different trauma, different experiences, and different support networks. Their faces are ours, just under different circumstances. People don’t choose to be homeless. Rather homelessness is a result of trauma in their lives.

The depth of the need in our community can be overwhelming. Today there are 1,600 people, including more than 300 children, living on Haven’s campus. That could be depressing if that’s all you see. However, I have the privilege of seeing these 1,600 people work to overcome their trauma day by day and put in the work to regain their lives. The effort, spirituality, gratitude, resilience and determination that each of those on our campus show is inspiring and incredibly motivating to do what we can to give them the space to change their lives.

I have spent the last year truly getting to know my city. And I can say today that, while I have been schooled and humbled this past year, I am incredibly proud of my city for creating a place like Haven for Hope and giving the 40,000 people who have been served by Haven a second chance at life. I’m proud of my fellow San Antonians who support others they have never met and even more proud of the clients who taught me so much about humanity and how to have true empathy.

And I am incredibly proud to get to be a part of something that our state, our nation, and the world looks to on how to really support those experiencing homelessness. Thanks to Bill Greehey for seeing the need, finding a different way to address the challenge and for creating this very special place that I get the privilege of being a part of every day. I love my city, even more, today for what it’s doing for those who need us today and every day.

Kim Jefferies is president and CEO of Haven for Hope.