Pastor takes his open-air ministry directly to homeless people in San Jose encampments

Pastor focuses ministry on San Jose's homeless encampments

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Ministering to the needs of San Jose's homeless population can be physically demanding and emotionally draining work, but it energizes Pastor Scott Wagers, a longtime advocate for the city's poor.

"I got tired of being inside the church. I get tired of listening to other preachers talk about something they're not willing to do," Pastor Wagers said.

Pastor Wagers leads the Community Homeless Alliance Ministry or CHAM. His is an open-air ministry; Pastor Wagers left brick-and-mortar churches behind several years ago to directly with homeless men and women in encampments throughout San Jose.

"We decided to adopt encampments. I know the folks there well," Pastor Wagers said, referring to the people living in the ragtag assortment of tents along Coyote Creek in San Jose's Roosevelt Park.

With the help of donations, Pastor Wagers and a team of volunteers pass out bottles of water, food and donated clothing to the unhoused virtually everyday.

He says while many people shun and avoid the homeless, his faith teaches him to embrace them with kindness and empathy.

"People look down and just walk right past you. But to be looked in the eyes and to be told that you have value and you have worth, it can change a person's whole perspective," says Pablo Gaxiola.

Gaxiola was homeless and fresh out of prison when he first met Pastor Wagers years ago. In the years since their meeting, Gaxiola has found housing and  work with Goodwill of Silicon Valley.

The pair ran into each recently when Pastor Wagers was doing outreach at St. James Park in downtown San Jose. Gaxiola asked if he could pray for Pastor Wagers, a blessing boomeranging back across the years.

Pastor Wagers says his hands-on ministry can be challenging, especially during the pandemic. But he says in the city's many homeless encampments he's found his flock, friends and a deepened faith.

"I had a church for many, many years. And I actually got tired of being inside the church behind the stained-glass windows. If you're a Christian, you're following Jesus. Everybody says one thing, Jesus would be out here -- for sure," he said.

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