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South Bay homeless advocate reaches out when hot weather hits

South Bay homeless advocate reaches out when hot weather hits
South Bay homeless advocate reaches out when hot weather hits 02:25

SAN JOSE -- For the unhoused in the South Bay, the sweltering conditions of an especially hot day like Tuesday can be deadly. One man in San Jose is trying to help those in need.

Scott Wagers is known on the streets as Pastor Scott. He is always there with a bottle of water or food, a helping hand to get into housing or a prayer for those who have fallen on hard times.

"Being with the people that need it the most is the most important thing. That's in my heart," Wagers told KPIX 5. "Martin Luther King said it best: anyone can be great because everyone can serve."

Knowing how the heat is hard on the homeless, Wagers on Tuesday bought cases of water and delivered them out to the people in the San Jose's homeless camps.

He's been doing work like this for decades. Born and raised in Arkansas and Louisiana, he came to San Jose as student.

At San Jose State, he founded the Student Homeless Alliance. He later got a master's degree and then a scholarship to Yale University to study theology.

As a new pastor at First Christian Church, he ran afoul of San Jose's City Hall for letting the homeless sleep in his church.

"The first few days of my ministry [there] was a fine for $2,500 a day saying you can't let people live in your church. I was like, 'That can't be right,'" Wagers said.

In recent years, he's given away thousands of meals to the hungry from his self-styled "Mercy Mobile," a homeless service center on wheels.

He was also one of the first advocates to publicly pressure corporations like Google to build more affordable housing.

"I was definitely an agitator back in the day and I still am.  I do things that are called controversial, but to me they're not controversial at all," Wagers said.

It hasn't been easy. He's seen friends die; he's stood in the middle of knife fights and overcame the suspicions of those he was serving.

"He was patient enough to let us see his character through his actions, so we appreciate him. Not everyone shows appreciation, but he's here and he treats us all the same," said Freddy, a man living in a camp on Santa Clara Street.

He won't solve the homeless crisis. In fact, it's many times worse now than when he started.

"Maybe when I was a young naive man, I thought I could solve this.  But not anymore, the world is a darker place than I would have thought.  But that's when you find out who you are when you face the darkness and you still don't give up," Wagers said.

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