Watch KSAT's first homeless special, from 2005

Founder of Haven for Hope reflects on life-changing primetime special

SAN ANTONIO – The scene was a dark downtown alley on a cold December night 10 years ago. In a primetime special, KSAT 12 News examined San Antonio's homeless situation. We had no idea who would be watching or what might happen as a result of that special.

It turns out that for three people watching that night, the special would change their lives, and in turn change the lives of others.

"We weren't doing anything to address the root cause or try and transform their lives, and that's what I really got out of the special. And it really inspired me to say, 'This is what I really want to do,'" said Bill Greehey, who at the time was retiring as Valero Energy’s CEO.

Ten years after that night, Greehey is still a business giant, has buildings named after him, but he calls the creation of the Haven For Hope the greatest part of his legacy.

"We have saved 6,500 lives already, and we'll be having 500 to 600 graduates a year from Haven," Greehey said.

"It was sort of a meeting of the karmas there," former San Antonio City Councilwoman Patti Radle said.

Radle has worked with the homeless and near homeless since 1969. A San Antonio City councilwoman when the special ran, she was appointed to co-chair a city committee with Greehey.

"I thought it was important, because it really personalized the situation of the homeless. It wasn't a statistic report," Radle said.

"I'd gotten arrested on May 10, 2009, for the last charge, which was a drug felony, and realized, 'I'm not really good at this,'" said Jason Gerstner, who turned his life around at Haven For Hope.

Ten years ago Gerstner was an admitted drug addict.

"If it hadn't been aired at that segment, at that time, at that point in Mr. Greehey’s life, I may not be sitting here in front of you right now, or alive," Gerstner said.

Watch the KSAT special that aired 10 years ago

Gerstner would become a resident at the Haven For Hope and eventually work and get married there. He, Greehey and Radle say things have changed dramatically since that night in December 2005, but there's more work to do. Greehey points to a lack of affordable housing.

"Oh, a lack of it. There are so many people that are waiting for vouchers in the city of San Antonio, it's unbelievable, including veterans," Greehey said.

Gerstner thinks there needs to be more people like Greehey and more places like Haven For Hope.

"There needs to be more space. Either more places like Haven, or Haven needs to be bigger," Gerstner said.

Radle, who still works with the homeless and near homeless through Inner City development, thinks we need to improve the way we treat our fellow man.

"We need to do a lot in the way of community understanding and community acceptance. It can't be, 'What are you going to do about the homeless?' It's, 'What are we going to do about the homeless?'" Radle said.

Greehey spent and helped raise millions of dollars to make his vision of the Haven For Hope a reality. This week, the city will make their estimate on the number of homeless currently on San Antonio streets.

About the Author:

Steve Spriester started at KSAT in 1995 as a general assignments reporter. Now, he anchors the station's top-rated 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.