Before I moved to Los Angeles Heights-Keystone, I lived in a downtown gated community with great amenities: dining, parking, green space, and security, to name a few. That place was Haven for Hope.
My health and finances bottomed out in 2016, leading me to Haven for Hope, where I lived for 12 months. Returning to a homeless shelter where I used to work was a difficult choice, but the caring staff, who were once my coworkers, supported me with the utmost compassion.
I occupied myself at Haven by washing linens for the Prospect Courtyard, helping friends get to medical appointments, and tutoring students. Life became recognizable while volunteering, and this discovery inspired me to commit to a 12-month term of service in AmeriCorps under San Antonio’s Department of Human Services.
I moved out of Haven and into the Keystone neighborhood on September 15, 2017, a date I remember distinctly as both the conclusion of my bout with chronic homelessness and when I moved in with my girlfriend after building a relationship with her and her family. I miss some things about the homeless shelter, especially now that the amenities and community I relied upon can be miles apart, but the mobility of living here easily trumps those few conveniences.
On the surface, Keystone looks aged and run-down, but it is rich with Mission Revival homes, magnificent trees, and working-class families. The scents of car exhaust and blooming flora intertwine, as do the sounds of chattering birds, buzzing lawn equipment, and ice cream trucks. Like a Gershwin-esque rhapsody, Interstate 10 twice daily roars with the soprano of rolling tires and the bass of diesel engines accompanied by rustling leaves in tenor.
Westward, I jaunt to the Deco District for services and staples. The Art Moderne buildings on Fredericksburg are thought-provoking. I think about how these streamlined buildings with pronounced silhouettes were designed for luxury but now serve our city’s working class. Low-income neighborhoods like mine typically don’t have such architecturally interesting buildings and houses.
Eastward, I wind up in Beacon Hill, which features bungalow architecture and one of my favorite bodegas, Isi Kat Quick Mart. Here, I grab snacks when I’m out for a stroll. The adjacent shops at Fulton Avenue and Blanco Road are fun for weekend shopping and dining. The intersection features a tiny roundabout, and while I can’t fathom why anyone would make it so small, it adds a unique sense of continuity to the adjoining neighborhoods.
Northward is Hildebrand, a street known for local businesses like plant nurseries, antique shops, and restaurants. My dad told me that when he was my age, the farther north of Hildebrand people lived indicated their level of success. Now, it seems that living anywhere south of Hildebrand is becoming an increasingly greater financial feat.
Because walking and public transportation are my primary means of commuting, I experience my neighborhood at the pace of life it was built for. Cruising by in a car seldom provides opportunity for appreciation. Typically, I walk to the Deco District, Beacon Hill, or Hildebrand to commute elsewhere, because the neighborhood is surrounded by highly connective bus routes.
However, being a pedestrian around here can be rather precarious. Like other aging neighborhoods in San Antonio, the neglected infrastructure makes me vulnerable. Sidewalks are either nonexistent, narrow, or in disrepair. Walking in the street means looking over my shoulder for cars while making sure I don’t trip on shattered pavement. Once in a while, a loose dog preys on my pant legs.
There have been some improvements here. A sidewalk was installed on the access road of I-10 from Hildebrand to Fredericksburg. The creek alongside Oak Farms Dairy has foot paths now, and I typically see folks from the area exercising on it. This creek is the home for turtles, red-winged blackbirds, and egrets.
I live with my girlfriend, Monica, in a 990-square-foot house built in 1941. Her mom, aunt, and uncle grew up here, and her uncle rents it to us. The minimalist traditional architecture features little ornamentation, an elegant floor plan, a small front porch, and bland portrait windows. It’s not Instagramable by any means, but it’s perfect for a millennial couple who are beginning a chapter together.
The interior design depicts a young couple negotiating their tastes. With our growing collection of spices, I cook up an ever-expanding menu of world cuisines. Monica has been making soap in the kitchen when we’re not cooking, and she wants to learn cold-process soap-making next. Simultaneously, I placed visual art on hold to focus on my writing. Using a hefty unabridged dictionary, I finish pieces at the computer that I started remotely from my phone.
Meanwhile, I’m gradually introducing myself into this domestic identity with sloths. I have a growing collection of sloth decor from loved ones who see the resemblance. Sloths may not know the clock, but they are masters of the compass. They move patiently, happily, and deliberately. I’ve learned to identify with sloths, because they have found harmony between passing up life and life passing by, which is on my mind ever since my homelessness. Their likenesses in my house remind me that slowly going somewhere on purpose is more virtuous than quickly going anywhere on accident.
When I lived at Haven, my property had to fit into a locker that was about 2 square feet by 4 feet tall. Any excess was placed in a bin under lock and key. The simplicity of bare necessities is refreshing, so we regularly donate unwanted possessions to charities. I’m doing the same thing with my interests: focusing.
We have four trees in the backyard. During the day, squirrels scour the ground for acorns under the red oak, and cardinals meet in the crepe myrtle. At night, I hear possums crunching through pecan husks while the surreptitious skunks prefer pomegranates.
The most striking features of the front yard are shrubs, a bougainvillea that refuses to grow, and a dead tree’s stump. Somehow the dead tree survived the storm on June 6, but it inevitably wound up in pieces for brush collections. Monica and I are learning about native trees to replace it. Whichever tree we choose, I hope that we can watch it grow together.
I used to hesitate to plant trees at my previous rentals because I believed I was investing in temporary situations. In my life, I have placed upward mobility above inward character growth, but I’ve reflected heavily on this philosophy since I was homeless. Thinking with permanence in mind, I find myself more committed to my environment and myself.
I used to dream about elaborate suburban houses or extravagant urban condos, but after laboring on half an acre and then having my share of claustrophobic living, I’ve come to appreciate the elegance found in a starter home and connected neighborhood. In this one-story house, the stories we build are with each other. Here, I am living with purpose while tolerating life’s ambiguities. I am grateful to rebuild myself on this post-and-plank foundation.