Welcome Homeless: One Man's Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home

Welcome Homeless: One Man's Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718086558
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 367,131
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Alan Graham is the president, CEO, and founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a social profit enterprise that delivers meals and provides homes to homeless people on the streets of Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Nashville, Minneapolis, Providence, and New Bedford.

Alan was born in Houston in 1955. He grew up in Alvin, Texas and attended the College of Mainland and later the University of Texas. In 1978 he left UT to begin a career in real estate. He was a partner in many of Central Texas’ most successful real estate development projects. In the mid-1990s, Alan co-founded the Lynxs Group, which built the air cargo facility at Austin’s new airport in 1997, and went on to build similar facilities at airports around the country.

Alan left the Lynxs Group in 1997 and managed Austin’s cargo port as the new airport was opening. At the same time, Alan had the seed of the idea for Mobile Loaves & Fishes. He and the other founders started by making sack lunches and serving them from the back of a green minivan. His focus now is the development and building of the Community First! Village, a 27-acre master-planned community that provides affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled and chronically homeless in Austin. Visit: http://mlf.org

Read an Excerpt

Welcome Homeless

One Man's Journey Of Discovering The Meaning Of Home

By Alan Graham, Lauren Hall

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2017 Alan Graham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-8655-8


The Thread, the Head, and the Heart of Alan Graham


Together, human lives are woven into a fabric made stronger and more useful than its individual parts. But, isolated, each individual strand is more easily frayed, and unless other threads come together to be braided into a cord, the single strand will break on its own. When the threads of each individual life come together, they become a thing that derives its strength and resilience from the structured collection of its parts. And while our lives are made up of threads that seem disconnected, they are actually incredibly intertwined and tightly woven together.

The first intersection of threads in life is that strong, yet fragile, intertwining braid with the people who bring you into this world. That being said, the first and only memory I have of my parents together under the same roof as a married couple was when I was about four years old. My mom was standing on their bed with a knife in her hand, threatening my dad.

This took place in the master bedroom of a house in Bellaire, Texas, a suburb that's now been swallowed inside the city of Houston. This was a simple one-story home typical of those built in the suburbs in the early '50s, and at the time probably only cost about twelve thousand dollars. Like all childhoods, there are memories both sweet and sour, but this memory stands out because it is an origin story, a vivid depiction of our personal dysfunction. Mother needed help, but we didn't know that yet.

My dad worked for Humble Oil, which is ExxonMobil today. He was married to a stay-at-home mom who grew up in Wichita Falls. She aspired to be an actress and went west to California's famed Pasadena Playhouse, later crossing stage left to New York City. Things didn't work out on either coast, so she moved to Houston where she met my dad in 1950. My oldest brother was born in November 1951, and Mother told everyone he was born premature, coming in at just under eight and a half pounds. Funny. If you sit and do the math it just doesn't quite add up.

Eight years later, she was standing over my father, wielding a knife, and the next thing you know she's in the hospital. While she was admitted, she was subjected to some of the most powerful psychotropic drugs known to man. She was given electroshock therapy that froze her brain completely and unalterably. During these treatments, my father filed for divorce and unleashed an Armageddon of a custody battle for me and my brothers. He remarried pretty quickly, too, and as I look back, something was clearly going on while my mom was in the hospital. He was distracted and often unavailable, and, the truth is, I have always felt a bit sad for my dad. He missed out on so many memories — now stories that have filled the time I've shared with my own thirty-two-year-old marriage and four kids. I would have wished the same memories for him.

My maternal grandparents were well-off and opened their purses like God opened the earth to swallow my father in the custody battle. They also were able to get their daughter some of the finest mental health care in the world, sending her to the famous Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, at that time, which gained its reputation as the leading intensive, individualized treatment for patients with complex symptoms. Think Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland.

When she was released from the hospital, my brothers and I went with her. It's difficult enough for a single mom to raise a family, much less a single mom with an extreme mental health disability. By the time I was in the third grade, my mother — our caretaker and provider — was spinning out of control. She was hospitalized again, and off we went to live with my dad and stepmother, until another custody battle was fought, which Mom would win again.

She was probably hospitalized eight or nine times over long periods for the rest of her life. The drugs and the electroshock therapy began to take their toll. By the time I was in junior high, Mom was an embarrassment. My brothers and I didn't want to be around her. She had noticeable tics from the drugs' side effects, and as far as hygiene was concerned, she didn't give a crap. Poor Mom didn't have the capacity; when she would go deep into her psychosis, it was a total train wreck.

On Easter Sunday, March 29, 1970, I was fourteen years old. There were two tickets to see Led Zeppelin on my bedside table. This was during the Led Zeppelin II Tour, when I was (and continue to be) a huge Led Zeppelin fan. I was stoked. I was lying in bed when a knock came from the front door. I looked out the window of my second-story bedroom (by this time, we had moved from Bellaire to another area of Houston), and just beyond our mailbox were maybe three or four Houston Police Department cruisers parked out front. I knew they were looking for me, so I did what any kid would do. I hid in the closet.

As it turned out, this was not a very good hiding place, and I was promptly arrested.

During that time of my life, my friends and I would take cars and go on joyrides. The coup de grâce was when we decided to have a little destruction derby in a vacant field near our under-construction neighborhood. It seemed harmless, but deep down we knew we were being destructive. I have to admit, though, that to this day a little smile comes across my face thinking about those times. I remember sitting in the police station and saying to one of the officers, "If you wouldn't mind calling my mom, I've got these two tickets to see Led Zeppelin tonight, and I'd really love to go."

The officer laughed. Obviously.

It didn't really matter one way or the other. Mom was in no condition to come get me anyway. She was sitting in her own filth as I sat in the filth of thousands of miscreants, ne'er-do-wells, and the dregs of society just like me who had been left in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center for Day One ...

Day Two ... Day Five ... Day Seven ... Day Eight ...

I finally came to the realization that no one was coming for me, except for maybe the transporter to take me to the Prison for Juvenile Delinquents in Gatesville. But there was an upside: my time spent inside those sad, gray, stark walls was pretty spiritual — as I sat there saying, Come on, God; show up.

Finally, my (biological) father showed up.

It turns out that he wanted me to marinate in that place before he got me out, but it was an important moment in my life — the moment when I began to see a pattern form in the tapestry of intertwining lives.

Let me just say that my dad was not a great father, and I feel sorry for him because he missed out on that. And though his coming did not fix or repair all that was going on in my life, it did straighten out the course enough for me to be where I am today. Whereas many of my friends would have — and did — end up on the streets. No mother or father got them out, and so, despite any possible fleeting poor choices or unfortunate circumstances, they became locked into that system. Meaning, they sat there until they were released onto the streets where they would stay because they had no place else to go.

They became homeless — physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.

The challenge — especially in dealing with such homelessness — is understanding. We have to recognize our own human weaknesses — our own fallibility. We have to realize that most of us are not that far from bankruptcy or foreclosure. Any of us could be laid off or suffer a sudden, debilitating injury. Any of us could be negatively affected by the lottery of birth, born into a dysfunctional household with no father to come and get us out of jail, or simply drew the short lot.

And then what? Where would we be?

But I digress.

Around the same time as my conditional conversion experience, my mother had one of her own. She became Roman Catholic. None of my siblings have any memory of going to church until this point, when she began to drag us to Mass, had us baptized, confirmed — all that religious stuff. I felt like I was the only one who wanted to go to church with her on Sundays (at least that's how I remember it). For many years, she and I were the only ones to go to Mass, simply for our deep love for the church and its rituals, despite her unpredictable, crazy mental tendencies.

Maybe it was surprising that I eventually left it — like many do — but that love was deeply embedded into my DNA. Deep down, it was there. So, when I met my wife, Tricia, in the late 1980s, I considered returning. At that time, I couldn't care less about any "church." But Tricia was Catholic, so I kind of had to be in the church. At first we were the Christmas/Easter Catholics. Then I began to see Tricia taking the kids to Mass on Sundays, and it just looked like the train was leaving the station — so I made the decision to hitch my car to the family car. Now I had to endure the-kneel-and-stand-and-kneel-and-stand and so on part of Mass. But going through the motions yet again became another thread in my journey to where God was moving me, slowly, carefully, into these right places of I am going to do something for you and with you, but it is going to come later.

If you look over a lifetime, you begin to see these moments intertwine and think, Where do I currently reside on this seamless garment that is being weaved? Which thread do I reside on? I'm not sure how or why you have this book in your hands, but now that you do, our threads are crossing over one another, and we are connected, whether we're aware of it or not.

To be fully human and fully aware of this beautiful, seamless garment that is being woven, you must really discover who you are in Christ.

And who are you?

You are made in a very distinct image. You are a member of the huge human family, where we're all brothers and sisters no matter where you come from, whatever your culture, your religion, or background. You were born in weakness, you will grow, and, eventually, you will die. Your story is the same as mine or anyone else's. It's a story of accepting that though we are a fragile individual thread, we are made stronger through our interaction with others. The mosaic that many of us call the body of Christ is incomplete unless there are no missing tiles; everyone is included. The banquet table of inclusion is infinite.

I see all these little moments along the way pushing me — all of these threads in this fabric pulling me. My mom's conversion. Her mental health issues. My walking away from the church. The reintroduction to God through my wife.

This kind of introspection isn't just how my mind works. Every single person in this whole world asks four questions: Where am I? Who am I? What's wrong? What's the remedy?

In other words: How can I find a way through brokenness, chaos, and insecurity so that life can be secure and whole again? Where and how might I find a home?

After a few years in the church, I began to build an intellectual relationship with God. I was studying everything I could about the Roman Catholic and the Protestant church, the Reformation, and more. I wanted to know everything so I could take the roots back to the cross. I had the head, but I didn't have the heart.

I went on a men's retreat called Christ Renews His Parish. Had I known going into it that we were going to hold hands and pray — God forbid, hug each other — I would not have gone. I never wanted that to be my spirituality. I spent the first few hours of a thirty-hour retreat feeling pretty uncomfortable, thinking, How the hell can I get out of here? I thought the retreat would be an opportunity to network with some medium-to-high net-worth Catholic guys, and maybe learn a little more about our faith. But, in reality, it wasn't that at all. After about four hours into it, however, I started thinking, Maybe I'll put in another hour or two. Before I knew it, it was one o'clock in the afternoon, and I was a spiritually broken man. For the first time in my life, I felt something inside of me — I thought, Just say yes.

Just say yes.

This moment was another pivotal moment of discovery in my design. This moment was the first turn of my spiritual rheostat knob. You know that little rotating, circular light-dimmer-switch knob most likely found on a wall in your house? The one you click on and the light is as dim as it can be, but as you turn the knob, the light becomes brighter? Anyway, on the "Alan Graham Wall" are two rheostat knobs. One is my professional rheostat, which, at this time, was high voltage — all the power and light was as strong and bright as it could be. Then there was the ministry light on the other side. When I clicked that one on, a dim light illuminated, and the other (the professional knob) dropped a notch. The diminution of the light was almost imperceptible, but, over time, those rheostats began to move in opposite directions. I think this moment at the retreat was when the movement was so great that you could discern the ministry light beginning to illuminate the room. It was a gradual process. But this was a big moment that led to a series of "just say yes" events.

I realized who I am through discovering the unity between my head and my heart. Through the head we are called to grow, to understand, and to work through things. But the heart is something completely, 100-percent different. The heart is a call for the concern of others.

This opened me up spiritually, making me susceptible to the opportunities that would unfold in the coming weeks. More so, this moment accentuated the fact that God equips the called, but He doesn't call the equipped.

As always, God would provide.

I don't know why, but I have consistently been called into leadership. I don't know if it's a selfish call, or if it just happened naturally, but I've always led — the German club, student council, football, stuff like that. So it's no surprise that I found myself acting as spiritual director to a group of men called CRHP (pronounced chirp and standing for Christ Renews His Parish) Team 10. At the same time, Catholic Charities was putting together something called the SACK (Social Assistance Christian Kitchen) Lunch Program. They were trying to bring together five cross-denominational churches to provide fifty sack lunches to the day-labor sites in downtown Austin. Of course, when my church came to me and asked me to lead that program, I just said yes.

I could see right off the bat that they needed leadership. I promptly took over.

Tricia and I organized all five churches, figured out all the health department requirements, decided how each church was going to be involved, scheduled what the menu was going to be every week, and organized and created a team structure where every night, five nights a week, volunteers would come make the lunches, which included two sandwiches, milk or juice, a boiled egg, a piece of fruit, a pack of cookies, and a prayer card inside a brown paper bag. The next day, somebody from that team would get them out of the refrigerator, haul them downtown, and bring back the empty crates.

The system was humming.

And then, sometime in the spring of 1998, my wife, our friend Mary Ann, and I had coffee together. Now, I maintain that we were having coffee at Jason's Deli, Tricia believes we were at home, and Mary Ann clearly remembers we were at church. Wherever it was (definitely Jason's Deli), this was the place I had the vision for what would later become Mobile Loaves & Fishes. And when Catholics have visions, the location where they have these visions becomes a pilgrimage site, and from that place comes holy water and medals and all kinds of spiritual craziness. It's funny, because this vision was planted in the brain of an inexperienced, unknowledgeable man with no real idea of how he was going to do it. This man also just so happened to be a Catholic and a serial entrepreneur — a recipe for never forgetting the vision.

Mary Ann was telling us about a ministry in Corpus Christi that pooled resources from multiple churches to give to the people who lived on the streets during the cold winter nights. As she spoke, the image of a catering truck entered my mind, bringing necessities from those of abundance to those who lack the most basic of human needs.

I didn't really know what a catering truck entailed. Remember, this is before the food-truck craze. I'd never eaten from a catering truck. I'd seen them. I'd gone so far as to make fun of them, calling them "roach coaches." Nonetheless, this idea of an effective yet affordable means of delivering food to the hungry would not go away. When I went to bed that night, it was still on my mind. I woke up the next morning knowing that we could franchise it and bring it to every church, every city, and every state to feed the homeless. (This is how entrepreneurs think: one truck becomes a thousand.)


Excerpted from Welcome Homeless by Alan Graham, Lauren Hall. Copyright © 2017 Alan Graham. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Gospel Con Came xv

Chapter 1 The Thread, the Head, and the Heart of Alan Graham 1

Chapter 2 Houston Flake's 400 Popsicles 19

Chapter 3 Dumpster Diving with J. P. Burris 35

Chapter 4 Danny Henderson's Street Name Is Preacher 49

Chapter 5 Peggy and David: The Baby Boomers 69

Chapter 6 Gordy the Gentle Giant 85

Chapter 7 Laura Tanier Was an Engineer 101

Chapter 8 The Love Story of Brük and Robin 117

Chapter 9 Will Langley the Carpenter 137

Chapter 10 Taz Williams Ripped His Blue Jeans 153

Chapter 11 Ellis Johnson's Journey Home 169

Chapter 12 End with the Beginning in Mind 187

Acknowledgments 205

Notes 207

About the Authors 211

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