Children at Haven for Hope enjoy the outdoors on a playground at the near Westside campus.
Children at Haven for Hope enjoy the outdoors on a playground at the near Westside campus. Credit: Courtesy / Haven for Hope

La Cantera Resort and Spa on the edge of the Texas Hill Country might seem worlds away from the Haven for Hope campus on San Antonio’s downtown western fringe, but such geographic distance disappeared Sunday evening when 900 people gathered in the resort’s San Antonio Grand Ballroom to celebrate raising $4.3 million in NuStar Energy’s annual golf tournament that benefits the city’s homeless shelter and comprehensive treatment center.

If there is another U.S. city where homeless care and treatment benefits as much from private philanthropy and charity golf, and from one energy executive and his company’s relentless drive to make a difference, national homeless experts were unable to cite it when I asked last week.

Haven for Hope, which will celebrate a decade of service next year, quickly became a national showcase for 22-acre campus with a faith-based path to sobriety and rehabilitation, and services provided by 60 nonprofit partners.

NuStar’s tournament has raised $42 million over 13 years for Haven for Hope and its partners, dating back to its years under construction. The visionary behind both NuStar Energy and Haven for Hope is the company’s Chairman William “Bill” Greehey, who has given more than $35 million of his own personal fortune to Haven for Hope and its nonprofit partners.

“Thousands of people have received help – and hope – because of the vision, leadership, and heartfelt compassion of Bill Greehey,” said Haven CEO and President Kenny Wilson, who has led the organization for the last three years. “Leaders from cities all over the United States, upon visiting Haven for Hope, have asked me how they can build a Haven in their home city. I tell them that it takes a leader, someone who can dream, plan, and make an aspiration a reality. Bill Greehey has done that for San Antonio. In addition, NuStar Energy does so much from a corporate and individual employee level to help.”

Bill Greehy with Hank Haney
Haven for Hope Chairman Bill Greehey with golf instructor Hank Haney at the NuHope Golf Classic. Credit: Robert Rivard / San Antonio Report

A spokesperson for the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., said she knew of no other city that could match what is happening in San Antonio. Yet Haven’s $20 million annual operating budget remains a challenge, according Wilson.

Nearly half of all funding – $9 million – comes from private philanthropy. The City of San Antonio contributes $4.5 million, while the state adds $5 million through its Healthy Community Collaborative. Only three other programs in the state qualify to receive such funding.

Sunday evening’s dinner was, like other NuStar and Haven for Hope events I have attended, a mix of personal testimonies, inspirational speakers, a well-crafted video, and a roomful of people with an evangelical level of energy and commitment to the cause.

People who have never visited Haven for Hope are often surprised how many residents are families with children. Watch this video, which will challenge many of the more common stereotypes about the homeless.

Brad Barron, NuStar’s CEO, welcomed the audience and introduced the evening’s theme: homeless children.

“Almost 60,000 families with children are homeless on any given night in the U.S.,” Barron said. “In fact, ever since Haven opened its doors in 2010, the family dorm has always been 100 percent full. On any given day, Haven is home to about 180 children. And since Haven never turns away a family with children – even if it’s at full capacity – Haven has been in a constant state of over-capacity for the last two years with anywhere from 10 to 30 families sleeping on cots in the chapel, at intake, or in open areas of the family dorm.

“Obviously this was not an ideal situation, but it was certainly better than turning them back to the streets.”

Brad Barron CEO and President of NuStar Energy.
Brad Barron, CEO and President of NuStar Energy Credit: Robert Rivard / San Antonio Report

A recently renovated building acquired from Bexar County will expand Haven’s dormitory bed count, although officials must first mitigate stormwater damage that will be addressed with $2.4 million in additional funding approved last week by City Council.

Three City Council members attended the dinner: Roberto Treviño (D1), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10). A family emergency forced Ana Sandoval (D7) to withdraw from the event.

The audience was filled with golfers, and that made the evening’s keynote speaker, Tiger Woods’ former golf coach Hank Haney, a major draw. Haney, now an on-air talk show personality on PGA Tour Radio and retired from a 42-year coaching career, could have entertained with lots of Tiger stories. He instead chose to focus on the lessons he has learned in his work that he also sees at work at Haven for Hope. His remarks turned inspirational.

“You need to have a goal, but to achieve it you also need to have a plan,” Haney said. “A goal without a plan is just a dream.”

Most of the audience’s golfers, who also were playing in the tournament being staged at six area courses, would have paid just about anything for a personal swing lesson from Haney while he was in San Antonio, but Sunday night wasn’t really about their golf games. It was about giving back.

Committing to sobriety is the first big step for individuals who enroll at Haven and apply to live in one of its 850 dormitory rooms. Greehey and Wilson believe in treating the root causes of homelessness rather than simply finding a short-term housing solution, which will not last very long when the individual fails to address addiction or other core issues that have led to homelessness.

For the hundreds of homeless individuals unwilling or unable to make that commitment, Haven operates the Courtyard, where as many as 750 people come each night to sleep outdoors on a vast concrete slab. They are fed a hot meal by kitchen workers at St. Vinny’s Bistro, run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Lorris Gibson, St. Vinny’s soft-spoken executive chef, stood before the audience Sunday and talked about the night he first checked into Haven in 2012 as a despondent alcoholic, eventually finding a new lease on life after his second go-around. Now, six years sober, Gibson proudly called his wife, Sheena Kunst, and their children to the stage. He met Kunst, a fellow recovering resident, inside Haven. She now works in a salon as a hair dresser, and is enrolled in college courses..

A celebrity golf guru, a personal testimonial, a moving video featuring homeless children that could soften the hardest heart, it was vintage Greehey and Haven for Hope. Somehow it all worked.

“I think most San Antonians might be surprised to realize that NuStar’s annual NuHope Golf tournament is Haven for Hope’s largest source of private funding,” Greehey said Tuesday. “Every year, close to 1,000 people travel to San Antonio to participate in our tournament, which stimulates our local economy and raises much-needed funds to help the poorest in our community get back on their feet and become taxpaying citizens again.

“Haven for Hope is a tremendous public/private partnership, but not many people realize that each year we have to raise about $9 million from the private sector to attract these public dollars. It is very challenging, but it is worth every penny as we have reduced the downtown homeless count by 81 percent since the year before we opened our doors, which has safeguarded our visitor industry. Most importantly, we have saved and transformed thousands of lives, while helping to maintain San Antonio’s quality of life by keeping our homeless population in check while other major U.S. cities are becoming overwhelmed by the burgeoning homeless crisis in our country today.”

The questions left unanswered Sunday night: What will happen to Haven for Hope when the 82-year-old Greehey steps down from NuStar and his public life as a philanthropist? Will the City of San Antonio find a way to step up?

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.