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Doing the Right Thing on the Streets of Albuquerque and America
I was just about to get into my car at the Albuquerque Post Office when a man approached me and said, in slurred words, "Can you give me fifty50 cents to catch the bus?" He was gaunt and haggard and Ihaggard. I suspected he was much younger than he looked. The rancid stench of alcohol assaulted me. He was obviously under the influence, but I asked him anyway, "Have you been drinking?" Unable to understand his reply, I asked him if he had a home. He said no, and that he'd been sleeping outside. I asked the man his name and he said, "Albert." I said, "Albert, do you have any family?" He told mesaid his wife had died. I asked him if he had any children;, but his response was incomprehensible so I asked him if he'd like a place to stay. "It's too cold to sleep outside, Albert," I said. His response really surprised me:. "I'm immune to it.," he said. However, he added, "I'm really tired and want to sleep. My bones feel like they're breaking." Christian Compassion My heart went out to Albert. What experiences had he endured that had caused him to come to this point in his life? I knew of only one way to get some immediate help for himAlbert. I asked Albert if I could pray with him and he quickly immediately agreed. He was wearing thick woolen gloves;, one of which he immediately took one off so he could clasp his hand in mine. That really affected me; , as thise action indicated to me that he really wanted the touch of another human hand. I wondered how long it had been since he had felt any kind of human contact. So right there in the Post Office parking lot I closed my eyes and we had church. I didn’ton't know about Albert and, but I was oblivious to everything going on around usme as I asked the Lord to touch Albert and become real in the life of this obviously troubled man. As I opened my eyes and, I saw Albert looking at me. His face was just a few inches from mine. I
asked him if he knew Jesus. He looked almost a little indignant that I had asked him such a question, and said (quoting Matthew 8:20), "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." I said, "Albert, that's great. So you know Jesus, right?" He said, "Yes." The Choices People Make I asked I asked Alberthim, “Albert, if he would you like a place to stay?”. He said yeshe would, so I said if he would stay right there I would call Joy Junction and have our van driver come and get him. I figured that what Albert needed most, at that point, was to get off his feet, have somewhere warm to lie down, and get some sleep. Anything else could wait until he'd had some rest and was sober. I put my hand on Albert's arm, and told him to be safe until our driver came. He said he didn't want to stay there but he would go to McDonald’s, just down the road from where we stood, and wait for our driver to come. A little while later, Joy Junction's afternoon driver called me and said he had found Albert, but there was a problem. He didn't want to go to the shelter unless he could bring his beer with him. I said no, that wouldn't be appropriate., I wondereding what was going through Albert's mind thatmind that he would trade a warm, safe place to stay for beer and a cold, miserable night on the street. Written off by many, Albert remained on my mind; he was one of Albuquerque's many homeless, who, despite their troubles, are still incredibly precious in God's eyessight.
The Ethics of Compassion How should caring people deal with individualspeople like Albert? On one hand, we have rules against alcohol at Joy Junction. It is banned. At the same time, Albert could have benefitted from the food, shelter and compassion Joy Junctionwe offers. It was obvious he had made an unwise decision to reject food and shelter, but it was probably one of many such decisions in his life --, decisions that had left him alone, homeless, and in a perpetual drunken stupor. It would have been wonderful if Albert cwould have come to Joy Junction on our terms, but what happens when they do notn’t? This is an ethical dilemma for me as the CEO of Joy Junction, and for society in general.
For example, talking about an upcoming political race in New Mexico, a friend asked me which candidate I thought would offer the best solutions for the issue of homelessness. I paused for just a moment before replying. "None of them," I said. "Because both of the parties they represent portray human effort and endeavor as the answer to homelessness." Let me explain. As a rule, conservatives say that with human effort and God's blessing, achievement of the American dream is still possible. But there can be a tragic consequence when you take that philosophy to its logical conclusion. When someone receives help that in some circumstances could enable them to get back on their feet again but they fail to achieve success, then their plight is often blamed on laziness or an unwillingness to "do what it takes." There can be a tendency to say, "I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and so can they." However, I have come to realize, after years of espousing that same philosophy,y myself that such a mind-set allows society an "easy out." People who make such statements often feel justified in their lack of non-involvement.
Misunderstanding the Issues The issue of non-involvement was is was exemplified to me a few months ago while in a store. I was talking to the clerk, and we saw a person outside that the clerkhe identified as a homeless person. The clerk said, "That guy's been homeless for 10 years. It's obvious he wants to be homeless." I immediately looked at the clerk and said, "Excuse me? He wants to be homeless? No one wants to be homeless, even though it may appear that way. We need to look at experiences, such as physical abuse and emotional trauma the man may have encountered, that have resulted in his long term homelessness." The clerk appearlooked surprised. It was evident he had neverhadn't thought of that. While we'd like to think that a meal, a few Bible verses, and a place to stay cancould provide a quick fix for the issue of homelessness, it's not as easy as that. Many of the guests staying at Joy Junction traveled a long and painful road before they came to stay at the shelter. Some get back on their feet again in a relatively short time, but for others the journey is much longer. If we rush recovery, it is at the emotional and psychological peril of those
whom we seek to help. Showing the love and patience of Jesus Christ to all of our guests, and letting Him begin to heal their broken hearts in His time, is a key component in the recovery model we use at Joy Junction. On the other side of the spectrum, many liberals say that with human effort, and by throwing a lots of taxpayer money at the problem, that the issue of homelessness can be solved. For example, Liberals often think that affordable housing will cure homelessness, for example. They fail to recognize that homelessness is oftenusually the result of a variety of factorsother issues, which include alcohol and drugalcohol, drug abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence. We can’t solve theseose problems by building more affordable housing. All we will'll do is take people with seriously debilitating issues, and give them a place to stay without dealing with the problems that resulted incaused their homelessness in the first place.
The Roots of Homelessness Individuals who start using alcohol and drugs routinely do so as a result of emotional and psychological wounds that are bottled up and unresolved. There is an inability to face reality, and an understandable desire to escape into a drug or alcohol-induced stupor. Rather than having state or national coalitions to end homelessness, we would be far better served to look for solutions to help decrease and deal with the issues thatwhich precipitate the slide into homelessness. If both conservatives and liberals are wrong, what is the answer? The ultimate solution is found in a faith-based position. More specifically, the solution for our nation's burgeoning homeless population is for the homeless to have all of the help and professional services they need and, but cemented together by a relationship with Jesus Christ. JesusHe is the only one who can give the homeless, and others, the ability to successfully face life and navigate the myriad of personal problems and relational issues that we all experience each day. Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
-1Looking in the Rear View Mirror
These days, downtown Albuquerque seems to be the center of activity for an ever-increasing number of homeless people. They stream out of downtown missions in the early morning hours burdened with backpacks, sleeping bags, and quiet desperation. For whatever reason, these people have made the streets their home. My heart goes out to all the homeless I see around Albuquerque, and I wonder what agonies they have endured that led to their present plight. I also grieve as I watch the obviously uncomfortable reaction of many people who pass the homeless on the street. They shift their eyes away and ignore the troubled human beings whose bodies, hearts, and souls silently scream for help. Is that discomfort due to a lack of compassion, or just an inability to know how to help? With the ongoing generosity from New Mexicans and the goodness of the Lord allowing us to sustain Joy Junction for over two decades, I opt for the latter explanation. At the same time, I also wonder what would have happened to me if I had been ignored because of people's discomfort more thanjust over 25 years ago when I was homeless.
Homeless on the New Mexico-Texas Border It was my own confusion about life that led to my homelessness back then; I fell into an emotional spiral and was immobilized with feelings of failure and worthlessness. I was in a terrible predicament; life was just too much for me and I didn’t have the skills to recover on my own. In January,January 1982, I was on the New Mexico-Texas border; I , and had stood in the howling winds for hours trying to hitch a ride. I had lived in Florida but lost my home, was separated from my wife, and was hitchhiking to Arizona to see if I could find work. Plenty of cars sped by, but none stopped for me. As the hours passed I grew wearier. Every passing car was a rejection, and as time slowly went bypassed my spirited dimmed, my body slumped, and
my stomach growled from hunger. I left the highway and walked to a store, looked through a telephone directory, and, as a Christian, called the first church I saw listed. I asked the person who answered the phone if he could help me with shelter for the night. The man told me that I would be welcome to sleep on the church floor, but I would have to walk there—a distance of about five miles. The prospect overwhelmed me. It wasn't that I was too lazy to walk five miles on an unknown Texas highway; I just didn't feel emotionally able to do so. I thanked him and dejectedly hung up. I looked across the highway, and saw the lights of a small motel. The idea of a shower and a bed warmed me, but there was a problem;. I reached into my pocket and found I was a few dollars short of the rate required. So near, and yet so far. For just a few dollars more and Imore, I would have been able to get out of the bone-chilling wind and rest my weary body. But it was not to be. I recall standing there in a daze, emotionally paralyszed. I didn't know what to do, but felt that if I had to stand on my feet any more that I would fall down. I had to lie down. I bought a newspaper and headed to a secluded grassy area some feet back from the road. I laid down on some of the newspaper, and attempted to use the rest as a makeshift blanket and pillow. I awkwardly twisted and turned. The ground had never felt somore unfriendly. To add to my difficulties, the wind whipped up and tried to take some of my "blanket." After a few minutes, I knew this wasn't going to work and I got up. I was desperate and had tears in my eyes. What could I do now? Although it wasn't what I had in mind, I soon had my answer. Walking a few yards, I saw a restaurant that was about to close for the night. Behind the restaurant was a storage shed, and inside there were all sorts of odds and ends. The only thing that looked half- way suitable to sleep on was a piece of fibreglass. So that was my bed that night. I got up early the next day and headed toward the highway. Thank God, a trucker soon stopped and gave me a ride. By this time, I was starving. Without my asking, the kind trucker shared his sandwiches with me. Looking Back Looking back almost 26 years later, I can see the Lord's hand in my life. Back then I was just another scared, depressed, dispirited, homeless person on the road—one who felt his life was going nowhere fast. Now I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of a large faith-based ministry for homeless families located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Little did I expect to return to the town where I was homeless all those years ago. It was Roseann Vona Page, our Chief Administrative Officer, who suggested the idea. She thought it might be a good idea forgood for me to go back to the New Mexico-Texas border andto try toand re-experience the roots of my own homelessness, and the feelings of despair, fear, and isolation
that are all part of it all. I embarked on my trip a few weeks later. When I arrived, I was perplexed to discover that I couldn’t find the place where I was stranded on that night so many years ago. Perhaps I was in the wrong place; perhaps that little town that I can still have vividly pictured in my mind more thanfrom over a quarter century ago had changed and grown up, just as I had. Initially, I was disappointed that I was unable to recreate what I had felt so many years ago, and thought that maybe I had made a wasted journey. However, I believe the Lord had something He wanted to show me. I was bBeginning to feel a little hungry. I stopped at a restaurant in Las Cruces to eat. The hostess who showed me to my table looked at me and said, "Aren't you Jeremy Reynalds from the homeless shelter in Albuquerque?" I acknowledged that I was, and asked her how she knew. She said she had volunteered to help, along with her parents, at a recent holiday meal we had held at Joy Junction. Although she lives in Las Cruces, her parents live in Albuquerque, and she had joined them. I enjoyed a leisurely meal, and was just on the way out when another woman stopped and looked at me and said, "Excuse me, are you Jeremy?" Again I said I was, and this delightful lady thanked me for the work we do with the homeless in Albuquerque and told me how much she appreciated it. As I made my way out of the restaurant andI thought what a difference 25 years had made.
Before, I couldn't afford to buy a meal or rent a room. I was just another faceless homeless person. Today, through the generous help of donors and volunteers, I am the face of an organization that helps people recover from the anguish of homelessness. God is truly good.
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