By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
For about two months out of each year, the telephone at Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, practically rings off the hook with calls from happy sounding voices offering food, volunteer help and monetary gifts.
Our online giving portal at www.joyjunction.org is also a hive of activity, with generous people wanting to make a donation.
As you may have guessed, I’m talking about the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. However, the need to take care of our city’s homeless is one that is year round. The need is ongoing as I write.
But giving – both online and other- makes a dramatic decline at 11.59 pm on new year’s eve, and when the phone rings after the holidays more often than not it’s a desperate family looking for help.
When someone comes in the office, rather than volunteers, many times in comes a sad and scared mom looking for a place to stay. Other times it’s an embarrassed and humiliated dad having to swallow his pride to make sure his wife and kids will find food and shelter until he finds a permanent place to stay.
Tonight and for days, weeks and months to come, Joy Junction will still shelter families who without our assistance would have no roof over their heads. Everyone we help is hurting in one way or another.
As concerned and caring community members, we need to remember two important facts. First, the homeless are with us year round, not only during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Second, with appropriate help, many of our guests, who have unique stories of quiet desperation that most of us could never imagine in our worst nightmares, can and do turn their lives around.
While many of the homeless have made bad decisions in their lives, such as getting involved with illegal drugs or abusing alcohol, who among us hasn’t made a bad choice? It’s just that usually our choices aren’t as obvious as those made by the homeless.
And let’s face it. If you or I had been forced to contend with many of the unspeakable circumstances experienced by the homeless, who’s to say we wouldn’t make a similar choice?
Then there are others, who maybe because of domestic violence or a difficult economy, are just unable to make it without the assistance offered by Joy Junction or other ministries.
A number of the homeless are also people who have served this nation in times of need. According to national surveys conducted in years past by Joy Junction and other faith-based ministries around the United States, nearly one in three men staying at homeless shelters is a veteran.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after working with New Mexico’s homeless for over 30 years, it is that with the right sort of help, many of them turn their lives around.
Specifically, rehabilitation requires not only mental and physical counseling, but also spiritual nurturing to give these men and women the strength they need to return to society. That’s what Joy Junction in particular – and faith-based ministries in general – are all about.
This nurturing of faith is the key to taking people off the streets, giving them new lives and making them productive. Yet it must be done in a sustained way. Just as the problems creating homelessness are not “seasonal,” neither are the solutions.
The homeless need an environment in which they are kindly and compassionately challenged to acknowledge and quit unhealthy behaviors, otherwise they will never acquire the practical or emotional skills they need to succeed.
Establishing responsibility and accepting a consistent faith in Jesus Christ is the beginning of transforming a lifestyle learned on the streets to a safe and successful life.
Those of us who help Albuquerque’s homeless at Joy Junction do so because it’s both the Biblical thing and the right thing to do. It is that belief which gives us the strength to get out of bed every morning and care for men and women who are ignored by many people in Albuquerque.
As you go about your daily duties, please remember those in need. Even though we are officially past the holiday season, please use this very cold weather as a reminder to thank God for the blessings of your home and as an opportunity to reach out to others who are not so fortunate.
Sometimes when people consider the overall homeless picture, they declare the situation to be hopeless.
For Joy Junction, while helping the homeless is indeed difficult, with the transforming power of the Christian faith, combined with your generosity over the last 30-plus years, we are succeeding. We are ending homelessness and hunger one life and one meal at a time.
So with that in mind, I hope you will continue to remember us and others in 2017 who give food, shelter and a message of hope and encouragement to the homeless, hungry and discouraged. We’re making a difference.