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, rings almost off the hook with calls from happy sounding voices offering food, volunteer help and monetary gifts.
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.
But when the phone rings after the holidays, it’s usually a desperate family looking for help.
And when the office door opens, rather than volunteers coming to help, 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 proper 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 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 similar 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 a quarter century 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,” so too the solutions to homelessness cannot simply be provided at certain times of the year.
The homeless need an environment in which they are challenged to acknowledge and consistently renounce 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 minister to Albuquerque’s homeless at Joy Junction do so because of our love for the Lord Jesus Christ. It is our faith in the transforming power of the Lord that 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 the 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 28-plus years, we are succeeding.
So with that in mind, I hope you will continue to remember us and other faith-based ministries that share the love of Jesus Christ with the needy.