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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas at Joy Junction Homeless Shelter
“The smiles and pure joy in my children’s eyes when they woke up that morning made me cry, because being here gave them (a better) Christmas than I could have done.”

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS) -- Being homeless any time of the year is devastating.

Santa's Helpers carry some of the gifts for our young guests by Summit Electric President and CEO Vic Jury

Formerly homeless veteran Joy Junction staff member Lisa Woodward said, “In the summer you spend your days looking for the smallest piece of shade to get some relief from the seemingly endless heat, and in the winter you begin to long for the warm sun of July.”

However, it’s even worse at Christmas, Lisa said. “Being homeless (then) can send you down a depression tunnel that is almost impossible to pull yourself out of.”

She added, “You walk the streets watching decorations go up, people rushing by with bags and bags of gifts. The smell of wonderful food floods the air and all you can do is find an alcove in an alley, keeping warm by perhaps thinking about your youth at the holiday season.”

Knowing how difficult Christmas can be for our guests, we try and make it a very special time. Since I began Joy Junction in 1986, we have always had special meals, and a number of activities.

One of the numerous bikes given for Joy Junction
guests by Summit Electric.

Summit Electric President and CEO Vic Jury, a longtime Joy Junction friend and supporter, helps ensure Christmas will be remembered as a special time for many years to come by our guests. Late on Christmas Eve, he comes down to Joy Junction with a truck filled with Christmas gifts.

Resident Services Supervisor Marlinda Valdez said that was the best time of the year for her. Marlinda passed out the presents to parents for their children to open the next day.

She said, “Most parents expressed how thankful they were. Others cried and were amazed at the great gifts their children would be able to open for Christmas.”

We asked some of our guests their feelings about Christmas at Joy Junction. One life recovery program participant said, “It was really good. The kids got almost all the stuff they wanted. They loved Christmas dinner and we got to be together.”

That same individual said a Christmas spent on the streets would have been horrible.

“The kids wouldn't have got anything, and I don't know what they would have (had) for dinner.”

Another life recovery program participant said, “My Christmas here was nothing I could have imagined. The smiles and pure joy in my children's eyes when they woke up that morning made me cry, because being here gave them (a better) Christmas than I could have done.” 

And what would it have been like to spend it on the streets? “Full of sadness and disappointment.”

An overnight Joy Junction guest was appreciative, but understandably sad. She said, “Any and all events remind me of the loss of my husband, so it's a losing proposition to try and change that fact. I enjoyed ‘small niceties,’ the most small thoughtful gestures that make the physical discomforts of being homeless lessened. But I see my husband in everything and everywhere.”

This woman said spending Christmas on the streets would have been “cold and lonely.”

She added, “It's very easy to lose one's perspective out there, or maybe it’s reality that makes us lose our way. Nonetheless if don't have a social network you can drown, and there seems to be little motivation to create one, if all you can do is think about physical discomforts.”

She sadly reflected, “I don't believe that the joy one used to feel during the holidays will return for most of us.”

Another overnight guest echoed that sentiment. That person said, “To me, none of us had any Christmas spirit. It was a very quiet day and we all tried to make the best of it.”

And what would Christmas on the streets have been like? That same person said, “Lonely and quiet and always on your toes. I have spent time on the streets, and at 50 years old it wasn't fun.’

Based on her own period of homelessness and talking with many of our guests over the years, Lisa reflected on Christmas for many of the homeless.

She said, “The days keep moving toward Christmas, but for the homeless there is no excitement. Christmas day will be like all others, moving through the crowd faceless and nameless, looking for a little to eat, a way to stay warm, and something to numb the pain of your existence.”

Lisa said for many on the streets, the Christmas season becomes a “blur.”

“The only way for them to deal with past memories, knowing that they have come to the bottom, is by using alcohol and drugs to numb them from their reality.”

Lisa said while meals and gestures of kindness help, for many it’s only slightly.

“You are still eating and drinking with people you may never see again, much less sit under a tree opening gifts by a warm fire.”

Lisa said while shelters help and can be an obvious life saver, it’s still important to remember this about the homeless.

“ Even though they are now warm, dry and fed, they are still moving only through the motions of normal and spending the holiday with people they have no real emotional connection with. Their only common ground is that they are homeless and only have each other and the kindness of the shelter to look to for any emotional food.”

Lisa said even when staying at a shelter like Joy Junction where all your basic needs are taken care of, that can still be accompanied by a huge dollop of guilt.

She said, “Your mind still tumbles that you are not able to provide those basics for yourself or your family. As satisfying as it is to know you will be warm and safe on Christmas and the days to come, when you lay down on the mat or a cot that night your mind spins with how you ended up at the mercy of a shelter.”

So on this post Christmas and pre New Year’s eve weekend, please say a prayer for all our city’s homeless-both housed and unhoused. While they may not be expressing it in a way that you or I can easily understand-or moving in a way that we believe will enable them to attain their goals- all the homeless want safety, acceptance and somewhere they can call home.

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Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "A Sheltered Life."

Additional details on "A Sheltered Life" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at

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