The Homeless Have Mixed Emotions About the Holidays

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO

Joy Junction Inc.

holidays-for-the-homelessWhile for many of us the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays will be a great time of celebration with family and friends, that is often not the case for the homeless.

We asked a few of our Joy Junction guests how they feel about the holidays.

One woman said the season has always made her depressed, because she was addicted to drugs and never able to get her kids gifts.

However, this year will be different. She said, “I am ready for a new way of celebrating the holidays. I am so grateful for Joy Junction helping me to get my life back.”

Another guest was nervous. She said, “This is my first time being at Joy Junction, and I really don’t know what to expect. I have not been able to afford a nice holiday season, so I am looking forward to how they celebrate the holidays here.”

One woman described herself as lonely and said her mother, her best friend, passed away two years ago this month.

She continued, “Holidays are not comforting as they used to be. Right now I’m just learning to get through them sober, and have a better life without alcohol and drugs and without my mother.”

One man said he is both anxious and excited as he thinks about Thanksgiving and Christmas.  “Holidays bring back memories of happiness and sadness all at once. At times the holidays are just a milestone marking the passing of another year of being alone. It also is a good time to reflect on what good things I do have.”

Anxiety also permeated another man’s feelings about the season. He said, “I am feeling anxious because I want to be with my family and daughter … This last Christmas has not been good.”

One guy said having his wife makes him both “hopeful and thankful.”

Another man said that the holidays make him excited because they are the only time his family gets together other than at funerals.

One woman said she doesn’t celebrate any of the holidays, “ but I do celebrate Jesus’s birthday on September 11, 3 BC.” That’s a date believed by some to be when Jesus was actually born.

Then there was this rather cryptic response. “I am an alien and a stranger in this place. What should I be feeling?”

We also asked whether the holidays bring back old (positive or negative) memories of growing up.

One female guest said the winter always brings back bad memories of her mom and dad fighting, because of their addiction.

She poignantly commented, “All I want is to have a nice winter with my Joy Junction family, and to be able to give my kids a nice Christmas that they really never had.”

One woman recalled that her childhood memories were negative because of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother.

She added, “I pray when the holidays come I am able to feel the love from Joy Junction, and the friends I have made here. Jesus and I will be together on these days and that is the greatest gift of the season.”

Another woman said the holidays bring back positive memories. She recalled spending time with her family- cooking, baking, shopping and playing games.

In addition to “Going to church as a family and worshiping together, thanking God for all of the many blessings by blessing those we came in contact with.”

Another guest remembered both positive and negative times from holidays past.

She said, “Positive memories because I was able to be with family in a sober state of mind, and during those times we had fun enjoying each others company.”

The negatives were from the abuse her mother, sisters and she endured at the hands of her drunk stepfather, who, she added, “was abusive regardless of the day.”

One woman said she has positive memories of the holidays, because even though her family was poor she always had a gift and good food.

However, she added, “It’s after the holidays when drama happened with arguments and craziness.”

One guy said that while enjoying “great” holidays while growing up, as he got older his lifestyle and addictions put him in a bad place. The holidays became negative. “I soon began to resent them and in a way I still do, but I am working on it.”

Then there was another perspective, embraced by one guest after watching some online videos and doing other “research.”

She said, “I do not celebrate pretty much any of the holidays, because they are all pagan celebrations and man made.”

One thing we know, regardless of the memories our guests have had of holidays past, this year will be better. Community support allows us to offer a safe place to stay, great holiday meals and toys for every child.

It’s generous donors who make that toy distribution possible. However, that has turned into something unique at Joy Junction. Picture not being able to give your kids gifts, but having to rely on someone else. While grateful for the kindness of others, you’d still feel bad about not being able to wrap gifts for your youngsters.

To help restore some dignity to the parents, our staff ask guest families for reasonable “wish lists” for their children. We pass out those lists to people who want to give. When the gifts arrive, we give them unwrapped, along with wrapping paper and tape, to mom and dad. As a result, parents can still have the joy (and dignity) of wrapping and giving gifts to their kids. Maybe a small issue, but one we believe is very important.