This month, on the morning of Thursday, October 14th, William Hawkins was shot dead in broad daylight outside a gas station in downtown San Antonio. It was an unacceptable, tragic end to the life of someone loved by so many.
William, 35, was well-known and cared for by various nonprofit organizations and homeless service providers. William was experiencing what is known as chronic homelessness, defined as being unhoused over a year (or repeatedly) while struggling with mental illness or another disabling condition. However, that is only part of his story.
William was a friend to many with a family that loved him dearly, now heartbroken with grief. William wasn’t always on the streets. He grew up on the city’s northwest side, attending Hobby Middle School and Clark High School in his youth. At one point, he had a job and his own place to stay. Brittney Ackerson, who previously managed a staffing company that employed William and is currently a Street Outreach Specialist with Corazón San Antonio, reflects, “The William I knew was a helpful soul, a protector, that cared for other people. He would often take people to work, share his food, and offer his place to stay. He was very much like a big brother or father figure. In every interaction I had with William, he was a soft-spoken, kind, tolerant, helpful individual.”
As we grieve, we are left to ask why such a gentle soul was taken so soon. William’s death should not be in vain, nor should it be overlooked, forgotten, or viewed as less important because he was experiencing homelessness. There is no excuse to take harmful action, much less use deadly force, when approached or asked for money by an unhoused, unarmed individual.
We understand that the San Antonio Police Department needs to perform a full investigation into this incident. During this process, we feel responsible, as the trained experts working with this community daily, to share the appropriate response when approached by someone experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis. Do not feel obligated to give money or food. You can always walk or drive away if you feel uncomfortable. While many people on the streets could use someone to talk to, it is often best to leave it to the professionals. If you are concerned for the person’s well-being, call 3-1-1 for a district outreach worker to be dispatched for a welfare check and ensure they are connected to available resources.
Homelessness is complicated to solve, and much work is needed to address this issue in our community. Various challenges can lead to homelessness, often disproportionately impacting communities of color, including systemic issues in our criminal justice, healthcare, and foster
care systems. We must continue working across our community to address the problems of inequity that cause homelessness downstream. There is also a tremendous need locally to develop affordable housing and permanent supportive housing options with onsite mental health services as a long-term solution for unsheltered homelessness.
If you are concerned about homelessness in our community, consider helping the homeless service providers dedicated to working toward solutions. Volunteering your time, making an in kind or monetary donation, or sharing our messaging on social media channels will go a long way to accelerate our progress to ensure everyone has a place to call home in San Antonio and Bexar County.