Former homeless woman spearheads plan with San Antonio church to help evicted families

Molly Wright hopes more churches transform parking lots into safe rest areas overnight for families living out of cars

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio woman is hoping her efforts to support people living out of their cars will encourage the city to back her idea of using parking lots as safe spaces.

Molly Wright, a housing advocate, said this idea came to her when she was homeless around eight months ago.

“I couldn’t find any relief whatsoever,” Wright said. “Some friends of mine gave me a car, and it made it a little bit better, but it was still dangerous living out of my car.”

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Wright said some of her hardest and scariest moments came from not having a safe place to park and rest.

“I was being harassed and moved over everywhere by police, and there was no place for me to stay,” Wright said. “It was difficult. Going to the Walmarts and going to different shadows, different tunnel systems."

"It is just not safe. It is not safe anywhere, and I just experienced too much ... when I was homeless," she said through tears. "I couldn’t find any relief anywhere, so I could have really used a safe parking lot where I could stay overnight in a safe space.”

Wright said she got in touch with the city multiple times.

“I asked (Mayor) Ron Nirenberg if he could create something like this for people who are homeless and for some reason, lose their houses or are evicted -- in this case -- during the pandemic crisis,” Wright said. “I asked him again and said this is the direct result of people -- what you asked us to do -- people staying at home and being safe but now do not have enough money to pay rent. Even if they started going back to work, they wouldn’t have enough starting off to satisfy the landlords. I told him the urgency is now.”

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Wright said she had a meeting with the city last Friday, but it didn’t seem to go as well as she had hoped. She then got connected with Pastor Jimmy Robles, with Last Chance Ministries, who supported her idea of turning the church’s parking lot into a safe place.

“I am hoping that by having this parking lot, by having people come over here, by this being a safe space -- I am hoping to prove to the city of San Antonio that it can happen,” Wright said. “We are in this together, and we need to help each other.”

From 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., people will be able to enter the parking lot in their cars to park at one of the cones, which volunteers have separated per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Wright is also asking that people wear masks when outside of their cars, as well.

“It is gated here,” Wright said. “It is well lit, and for the most part, there is a police station right around the corner, and they keep an eye on it. The neighbors here also keep an eye on the parking lot, so it is well-watched.”

Wright and a team plan to volunteer their overnight hours to assist those who drive up to the parking lot. She said she hopes the city can soon help with getting the American Red Cross on board to provide cots for families.

“Unless you have a car where you can lay out, I think it will be much better to have a cot, which is more comfortable,” Wright said. “That way, when it gets really hot, they don’t have to sleep in their hot cars but next to them.”

Robles said the church hopes to help people get people back on their feet, as well.

“We are prayerfully looking for organizations out there that can help them out while they are parked in here and get them back on track,” Robles said.

Nirenberg also weighed in on the idea, calling it reasonable.

“This has actually been an issue prior to the pandemic as well, and I know the Department of Human Services is working on some sort of pilot program for this,” Nirenberg said.

Wright also said she hopes this inspires other churches in our community.

“I do appreciate the mayor’s response to this,” Wright said through tears. “I thank you so much for your support, Mayor Nirenberg. This is really an important project, and we need more churches to open their lots."

"It is just really scary living in your cars in the streets. We need churches on all sides of the city to step up and help out with overnight parking. It is just important for the city to please support and push this effort along," she continued.

As far as other donations, Wright said an ice chest with cold water bottles would be helpful for families who may need the parking lot for a safe space.

About the Authors

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.

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