Al Luper brings meaning to ‘there was no room in the Inn’

Al Luper sits in his new apartment thanks to help from St. Anthony Parish and Humility Homes and Services, both in Davenport.

By John Cooper
For The Catholic Messenger

(Editor’s note: the following column, published with permission, appeared in the email newsletter of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport.)

Each Advent we recall Joseph and Mary’s looking for a room in the inn. If you think about it, we spend much of our days either letting people in or turning them away (usually not consciously) to the doors of our lives. 

One day this summer, my door was knocked upon as I strolled along the river. Someone sitting next to the old Levee Inn yelled at me. As I got closer, I could see it was a McAnthony Window patron. He introduced himself as Al Luper. The wheel of his rollator (walker that you can sit in) was busted and he asked if we could help him find another one.


I learned that the Levee Inn was Al’s home for the summer. He’d sit on the west side in the morning, east side in the afternoon and sleep behind it at night. After 27 years of homelessness and suffering from major heart and lung issues, Al says, “I have always been amazed when watching the tug boats go up and down the river. I had lived here briefly when I was a little boy so I knew there were a lot of them passing by. I came to Davenport on July 3 (from Des Moines) to die watching them. I never thought that I would last through the summer.”

As the weather turned cold, we began seeing Al sleeping under the railroad bridge on Main Street next to St. Anthony’s. Al says, “I can’t handle homeless shelters. I have a lot of anxiety and there’s just too many people crammed into a small space.” Al continued, “Of all the bridges I’ve stayed under, the one by St. Anthony’s, is one of the best for keeping the wind off of you.”

As it grew colder, it became harder for us at St. Anthony to see Al balled up under the bridge each night. We’d check on him with coffee in hand each morning. Al said, “I once spent a winter in Sioux City, South Dakota, under a bridge. It took two below-zero-degree sleeping bags to keep me warm. I’ve never lost part of my body to the cold.”

Al was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Mason City, Iowa. At age 63, Al suffers from a very bad heart for which he was placed on disability in 1997. He has lung cancer and COPD. He is the father of six children and used to work construction. He divorced his wife in 1993 and shortly thereafter became homeless. Al is honest when he says, “I’ve made bad decisions to drink and smoke. I meet a lot of young homeless people and I tell them not to make these same bad decisions. My mom was always there for me. I tell them to call their mom and dad. I have saved a lot of homeless young people by talking to them about my mistakes.”

Most of Al’s time being homeless has been spent living in a shack made of wooden pallets along the Raccoon River. In 2008, his shack was destroyed by a flood. He received some money from FEMA, which he distributed amongst his six children. They didn’t like how he divvied up the money and they haven’t spoken to him since. Al accepts this situation in much the same way that he accepts his lot in life. “When you don’t have nothing, you don’t expect nothing. I have only myself to blame.”

In terms of his fellow homeless, he says, “I have met a lot of good people and I have met a lot of ****.” For the last several weeks, Al and Roy Gower became buddies sleeping under the bridge. Two weekends ago, the two of them pooled their money and rented a hotel room for two nights. Chris Dunn, the street outreach staff person for Humility Homes & Services found Roy an apartment.
Al continued to sleep under the bridge until Monday when Chris was able to help Al move into an apartment at Marycrest. When I called Al today, he said that he only had a TV and a mat to sleep on. I took over a chair and ottoman for Al. Even though he’s sleeping on a mat, it’s a lot better than underneath the bridge. We are working to get Al’s apartment set up.

Al says, “I believe very highly in Jesus Christ. I read the Bible, especially when I am feeling down and my attitude always gets better. I felt the Holy Ghost come into me when I was baptized at age 16, but I blew it off. I’m a man with no congregation. I liked to listen to the Catholic radio station playing throughout the day and night at St. Anthony’s McAnthony Window. I could hear it all the way over underneath the bridge.”

I told Al that we care a lot about him. He chokes up when he hears this. “I feel the caring not just toward me, but everyone else you all help at McAnthony Window. I feel the patience you all have. I feel God’s love.” For all of us this Advent and always, let us practice opening the doors of our hearts to not only the Holy Family, but to all the “Als” of this world.

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