Editor’s note: Today, the Journal continues its annual Help for the Holidays series, which spotlights areas where community members can reach out to neighbors in need. The series concludes next Sunday in the Living section.
Rachael Daniels is no stranger to Joy Junction, the homeless shelter where she and her two children, age 3 years and 18 months old, are staying.
In the past dozen years she has found refuge there for short periods of time on at least four other occasions, not to mention three stints at the Safe House, a local domestic violence shelter, and one block of time at the Barrett House for homeless women with children.
Her children’s father used “poor judgment,” she says, when he got involved with drugs, ran out of money and ultimately wound up in jail, where he remains. Unable to pay rent, Daniels moved out of her apartment. “Instead of going through the eviction process, I just left and wound up here,” she says.
And that was a pretty good judgment call.
This time around, Daniels, 32, enrolled in Joy Junction’s Christ in Power Program, or CIPP, a nine-month program in which residents work at jobs on the sprawling Joy Junction campus in the South Valley. In the process they learn how to prioritize and manage time, how to deal with anger and other emotional extremes, and how to be responsible and take charge so that chores are completed in a timely fashion.
The program, one of many at the shelter, doesn’t teach job skills; rather, it teaches life skills that allow people to get and keep a job.
“This time, I thought it would be beneficial to do something different in my life so this (homelessness) doesn’t happen again,” she says. “I don’t think I’d still have my children if I didn’t have Joy Junction to come to. I would have been sleeping on the street with my children, and the state Children, Youth and Families Department would have gotten involved sooner or later. That’s a constant fear I have – that my children could get taken away.”
In the meantime, Daniels and her children have a roof over their head, food, clothing and the feeling that they are safe. But providing those things doesn’t come cheaply, says Joy Junction founder Jeremy Reynalds.
The shelter does not accept any government money – city, county, state or federal. Instead, the faith-based organization operates on cash donations and charitable contributions of food, clothing and common items people need to survive.
“People tend to come forward during the holidays, and we have a great and caring community, but the need is great all year long,” says Reynalds. “We get up to half of our $4 million annual budget during the last 10 weeks of the year.”
Joy Junction shelters up to 300 people each night, including 60 to 80 children who are part of families “in various configurations,” Reynalds says. “We also serve in excess of 190,000 meals, not including holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2012 we served 50,000 more meals than we did in 2011, and 2013 looks to be as bad or worse than 2012.”
Estimating the homeless population is not easy. Based on numbers from shelters, feeding sites and agencies that work with the homeless, there are likely between 15,000 and 20,000 homeless people in the metro area, including about 6,000 homeless children who are enrolled at Albuquerque Public Schools, according to figures from APS.
That begs the question – if a person or a family lives in a shelter, stays in a cheap motel, or flops down on a friend’s couch, are they technically homeless?
And then there are the homeless that often go uncounted and may include “people who camp out on the West Mesa, or sleep in dumpsters or under highway overpasses,” says Reynalds.
Further complicating the local homeless picture is that nearly 25 percent of them have some type of mental illness, and about 30 percent of them have alcohol or other substance abuse issues, making many of them reluctant to seek out medical and other services, including shelters.
The size of the homeless population in the metro area may be uncertain, what is beyond a doubt is the great need of items to help them, says Reynalds.
Cash donations are always welcome, as are perishable and nonperishable foods, he says. Joy Junction will accept USDA-approved fresh or frozen meats (no game), bottled water and clothing, especially winter wear like coats, jackets, gloves, scarves, socks, shoes, boots and thermal and regular underwear (new only). They also need men’s and women’s toiletries, particularly feminine hygiene products.
The ranks of the homeless began swelling with the economic collapse around 2008, “and even though we talk about an economic recovery, many more people now understand that there is no such thing as true job security,” says Reynalds.
“Just one step above the population we serve are the folks who are basically a single paycheck away from being homeless. People should be generous to the homeless and the agencies that serve them and they should remember: ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’
“The homeless person you see on the street today could be you and your family next week.”