Neighbors on the Margins

Words By Marcus Goodyear x Photos By Alyson Amestoy


Chris Parker works for a nonprofit that saved his life.

When he sought help from the SA Hope Center in 2013, he had four children with his wife and two from a previous relationship. When his two oldest children left their birth mother and moved back to San Antonio, CPS was already involved. Chris had paid child support to their mother when she took them to Colorado, he told me, but CPS needed him to take some parenting classes.

That’s how he landed at the SA Hope Center. They offered the classes Parker needed, and he was able to gain custody of his children. Eventually, they hired him to work at their satellite office in the Kingdom Restoration Lab (KRL) in the basement of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio. The work is rewarding, but hard.

Parker remembers one time when he laughed at “the suits.” That’s how he described a group of excited professionals he saw coming out of the church.

“They told me they were in a meeting to solve homelessness, and I laughed. I don’t have a filter.” Parker has been working on that, he says. “There’s always these people that try to attack something that they’ve never personally been through. Can you understand?”

I can. I’m one of the suits. I want to help others, and it is easy to get excited— maybe a little self-congratulatory—when you have an idea that feels like it could help people who need help.

And listen, wanting to help is an important first step—68% of you said this was a top priority for your faith community. This is a good thing!

So how do we help people experiencing something we’ve never experienced?

When the system doesn’t
know you exist

Because Parker has lived experience, he knows the surprising ways that poverty complicates a person’s life. Consider this: The most common need Parker addressed while I was following his work? Lost identity.

Three different people in one hour on a Wednesday morning approached his table needing help because their wallet had been stolen. Without an ID, it’s hard, if not impossible, to receive some of the most important services. Without an ID, a person can’t check into a shelter, for instance.

One woman says sheepishly, “I lost my stuff again.”

“Oh no!” Parker says, dismayed.

She just shrugs, resigned, “They steal my stuff, man.”

Parker notes her name in his laptop and sends her to the clinic for medical papers “to start the process” of getting another ID. There’s no shame. No judgment.


Lost identity was on exactly


Lived Experience Matters

As our community survey indicates, lost identity was on exactly no one’s radar as a common problem. Instead, we donate to food banks (68%) or give money to nonprofits (85%). But poverty, homelessness, and mental illness in our country are bigger problems than personal charity can solve. They’re so big that it’s hard to know where to start.

Parker started with himself. Remember, he first engaged SA Hope to receive services rather than serve others. Today, he is doing triage and street ministry for them in downtown San Antonio. His lived experience makes him particularly effective when people arrive in a state of distress. As I shadowed Parker at KRL, he greeted people, assessed their needs, and sometimes put together hygiene bags for them.

We may not be Chris Parker, but we are all a lot closer to the margins than we want to admit. Our stable lives are fragile. A lost job can change a life: In the U.S., 30% of those in poverty are living in a family whose head of household is unemployed. A divorce sends too many women into a financial spiral: 23% of those in poverty are living in a female-headed household with no husband present.*

*U.S. Poverty Statistics and Facts (Updated for 2024)

What do the margins
actually look like?

In the community survey, our readers identified what they consider to be the top issues in communities around Texas, and the answers, perhaps, provide a window into what we think it means to be on the margins. As a group, Echoes readers want to provide better mental health services (44%) and better education (40%). We want to address hunger and food insecurity (39%) and homelessness (39%).

Being on the margins is more than hunger and food insecurity, though. And no one expects a simple donation or transaction to solve the complex problem of poverty in America.

Folks at the SA Hope Center understand this. They began as a benevolence ministry at Oakhills Church decades ago—it was Oakhills Church of Christ back then. They distributed clothing and food from a stone house behind the church building, similar to Christian Assistance Ministry (CAM). Then, in 2014, they shifted their strategy to provide different interventions from the ones people receive at CAM.

CAM refers to themselves as an emergency room, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church Mitchell Moore explained. If you are in crisis, you need an emergency room. His hope is to compliment the excellent work CAM does because people also need recovery support and annual checkups—and ideally those checkups will provide some preventative care.

Today, the SA Hope Center is “loving people well by empowering them to meet their needs” at three locations in the city, including at First Presbyterian Church. Food and clothing is still part of the solution. But so are family and community education, job readiness and education, one-on-one mentoring, and spiritual services like Bible classes and pastoral counseling.

“There’s an education that’s missing in the congregations,” Parker says. “Mental health is key. And right now, that’s where we’ve been failing them for decades.”

The conversation doesn’t go far because a woman approaches us. Parker greets her warmly, “How are you?”

Without looking up, she says, “I lost my social.”


Without looking up, she says,



Welcome to the Neighborhood

Participants in our 2023 community survey from Austin gathered to discuss the pressing needs in their community.

We Hear You

We asked, “Do you have time for a 1-minute survey?” And. You. Answered.

Communities Need Help. Can Churches Be The Bridge?

Only 44% of survey respondents said they feel their faith communities are doing enough to help locals in need, compared to 80% in 2019.

Your Number One Concern: Mental Wellness

44% of survey respondents said mental health services need the most attention in their community.