An “Overburdened Vagabond” Enduring a “Walk of Shame”

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D. Founder and CEO Joy Junction Inc.

We’ve all seen them-the homeless walking Albuquerque’s streets carrying their bags, pushing a shopping cart, or struggling under the weight of a heavy backpack.

Young or old, clean shaven or bearded, male or female; most of these poor souls have a look of tired desperation.

homeless-bagsThe problem is, that especially in Albuquerque’s Downtown area, we see them so much they almost blend into the landscape. Often they’re invisible to us. When we do “see” them we really don’t, as often all we think about in an attempt to rationalize our often judgmental attitude and lack of involvement are thoughts like, “They’re lazy,” or “he’s probably an alcoholic,” or “more than likely she’s a drug addict.”

But what’s behind that haggard, weary exterior? How do the bag carrying homeless feel about carrying all their belongings around with them?

We asked some of the members of Joy Junction’s life recovery program who used to face that bag carrying plight daily.

Their candid answers may surprise you. Reflecting back on the experience one person said, “It felt like a huge walk of shame, that was like a ball and a chain in humiliation for all the world to stare and see. Makes you stick out like a sore thumb to where people would ask if we stayed at Joy Junction … which made (it) seem I might as well carry the Joy Junction logo on me in huge letters … ”

That individual added, “Each day you think just what it is you can discard from you … if you don’t need it as much. (It would be nice to do) without the tiresome weight I carry for distances as others look on at you oddly as (if) you did the worst act in human history; like (you were) a monster. They wonder what we’ll do next.”

Someone else said, “I felt like an overburdened vagabond.”

Another person was embarrassed about toting all his belongings around. “You could not leave it anywhere, ’cause it would get stolen. People look at you funny.”

One person called the bag toting experience “degrading.” He said, “When I was walking somewhere I would get the feeling people knew I was homeless. By the time I got to my destination. I would be so tired I would have to rest for 30 minutes just to get my energy back.”

Someone else said, “Just imagine having to carry everything you own every day. Not only did I do that, but (I also) carried my spouse’s belongings. It made for a long day.”

Another individual recalled, “When you carry your stuff around people look at you differently, and it’s almost impossible to find a job. When you walk into a place of employment with all your belongings, you already deem yourself unreliable because that’s how people judge you.”

And on that same theme, someone else said carrying all your bags around with you made the possibility of getting a job very remote. He added, “ No one wants to hire a person who comes in (with) a bunch of bags.”

So when these individuals joined Joy Junction’s Christ in Power life recovery program, there was an added benefit that you may not have immediately thought about.

Not only was there food, shelter, encouragement and access to bathrooms, there was no more carting, rolling or pushing their bags around town. Program members have a place at Joy Junction to stash their belongings. See how appreciative they were of this.

One woman said, “(I was) relieved of the burden of carrying the bags with me, as well as the rush of finding a job. I know I will have to look for a job when my program is over, but I won’t have to look like a bag lady doing so.”

Another person said, “I get to store my stuff, and I’m not so tired from lugging (it) all day. And people don’t look at me the same way.”

Someone else had an interesting perspective, saying “Having a locker and a place to live without having to leave everyday has taken (away) some of the stress of being alone.”

Another person said, “By being able to have a home base and (able to clean) up, (it) gives (me the) confidence to be able to think of myself as employable or valuable to society.”

And in addition to feeling loved and wanted, isn’t that what most of us want – to be employable and valuable to society?

So please don’t ignore the next bag carrying or cart toting homeless person. Consider getting involved in his or her life by at the very least saying a prayer, maybe giving a fast food gift card, or making a referral to Joy Junction.

Your kindness may be all that’s needed to start the person on the road to recovery.