SA man overcomes homelessness after years of living on streets

Jon Merckens, 71, says he lived under bridges all across city

By Adrian Garcia - Digital Journalist

SAN ANTONIO - For over decade, a 71-year-old man spent majority of his stay in San Antonio living under bridges all across the city. 

But for this year’s Thanksgiving, Jon Merckens will spend his holidays in his new apartment with a balcony view of downtown skyline.

“Being homeless is not a pleasant thing,” Merckens said. “No one that I've ever met suddenly decided, 'Oh, today I'm going to be homeless. This is going to be fun.’”

Merckens said he became homeless and lost nearly everything after a lawsuit was filed against him in Florida.

“I had a meeting over at (my) house and it had a porch. Well, the porch collapsed and this is a house that’s two years old,” Merckens said. “Seven people got hurt all pretty bad ... that was like 15 feet to concrete.” 

The unfortunate turn of events left Merckens with only a car and little money to spend.

He then traveled across the country finding odd jobs along the way, until life mishaps would eventually land him in San Antonio.

Merckens spent the last six years living under a bridge on San Pedro Avenue until threats from other homeless people in June forced him out. 

He suggested if it hadn't been for Haven for Hope’s street outreach program, led by Ron Brown and outreach worker Monica Garcia, he would not have been so lucky. 

The street outreach program has helped homeless individuals from living on the streets to either staying at the Haven for Hope campus or in an apartment.

“I’m glad I am out of there because I know damn well if I would’ve stayed there, I’d be dead,” Merckens said.

Since he moved into his new apartment, he said three people have died under the bridge. A total of five have died this year, Merckens said.

Merckens credited Garcia and Brown for saving his life and helping him receive his benefits along with identification.

“The process works (and) it takes time, but it works. Don't give up,” he said.-" 

Because Merckens was drafted during the Vietnam War, he is still awaiting to receive veteran benefits, but is receiving Social Security.

Merckens has taken up painting, purchased furniture for his new apartment and voted in this year's election for the first time since 1972. 

When asked what he sees in the mirror now, Merckens responds, "I see somebody that looks a lot healthier than the last time you saw me.” 

Haven for Hope is asking for donations to combat the winter season for the homeless.  

For donations to the homeless living on the streets, they can be designated and labeled as “street outreach.”

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