jeudi 12 novembre 2009
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By Jeremy Reynalds
This is not a story with a happy ending-at least yet. In fact, it’s a tale that’s still unfolding. But it’s one, nonetheless, that needs telling, because it’s happening in our city.
Sitting on the curb by a shopping cart overflowing with belongings, they were hard to miss. I met the engaging, but physically and emotionally worn, Linda and Jimmy on Sunday while at Bullhead Park, located behind the Veterans Hospital in Albuquerque. We were there as part of Joy Junction’s new “Lifeline of Hope” meal outreach.
After we gave them sack lunches (which they ate ravenously), sodas and blankets, I asked them if they would tell me some of their story. They graciously agreed to a brief interview. I learned that Linda and Jimmy are close friends, and provide much needed support and encouragement to each other.
They said they have lived on and off for years at Bullhead Park I asked Linda to tell me how she feels living there.
“It’s not fun,” she said, coughing. Linda said while she has been asked to leave by the police on a few occasions, they are on the whole pretty kind to her. They even ask her if she and Jimmy are doing okay. (That’s as “okay” as you can be living in a park).
Jimmy told me he has lived at Bullhead Park for five years. Before that, he used to work at a local apartment complex as a groundskeeper.
I asked Jimmy what happened. Jimmy admitted he liked to drink and ended up quitting his job. He said he went to California, then Texas, and then ended up back in Albuquerque. He said he doesn’t go to a homeless shelter because it’s “too far.”
I wondered how Linda ended up living at Bullhead Park. She said while she gets a disability check, when she did have an apartment, “I had a lot of friends over ... and I got thrown out, and now I’m having a hard time getting another place to live.”
I wondered what Linda did on a night like a week or so ago when the weather got down to about a bone-chilling freezing. Chuckling, she said, “We just...brrr...”
Jimmy said, “We got plenty of blankets, but it still gets cold.”
As he spoke, a thought of my comfortable, thermostat-controlled house on the other side of town flashed in my mind. How grateful I was for the security it would offer me for the upcoming night.
That thought was followed by an almost instantaneous recollection of one night over 27 years ago, when I was cold, homeless and frightened on the New Mexico-Texas border. Feeling like an absolute failure for a variety of reasons, I writhed uncomfortably on the hard ground close to the noisy highway, trying to get at least a little warm by wrapping myself in newspaper. After a few minutes, I gave up the futile effort and made my way to the storage shed behind an about-to-close restaurant. There I slept on a makeshift fiberglass mattress. How easy it might have been for me to end up in Bullhead Park or somewhere similar.
Linda’s words jolted me back to present-day reality. Describing her own situation she said, “(You) just wrap up and do the best you can.”
Jimmy said, “Body heat, you know.”
I asked Linda and Jimmy what hope they see for the months and years ahead.
Linda said, “I’m hoping I can do a little bit better. I get a monthly check but it ain’t enough, and I got kicked out of my apartment because I was letting all of my homeless friends come over and stay with me. And I got kicked out because I was letting everybody come over and sleep. I got kicked out, not for (non) payment. I paid my rent, my rent was paid until the third, cause I do get a monthly check.”
I told Linda it almost sounded as if she was trying to run her own homeless agency. Laughing, she turned to Jimmy and said, “I had a lot of people living there, didn’t I ? About five people one night.”
I asked Linda what she would say to the individuals who routinely tell me that people like her want to be homeless.
She said, “I think they need to come out here and be homeless for awhile ... Like I said, I get a little monthly check, but it ain’t enough to really go (around). The people that says we want to be homeless is crazy. Because it’s cold outside.”
More thoughts were whirling around my mind as Linda spoke.
Really, who “wants” to be homeless ? If you sleep at all, you do so quite possibly hungry with one eye open. You probably wake up in the middle of the night with your stomach growling wanting to go to the bathroom. However, with a lack of facilities to do so, you nurse your aching bladder, fearing that if you do decide to use the restroom outside you could risk an arrest for public indecency.
I mentally returned to Bullhead Park again, and asked Jimmy what he would tell people who say, “You know what, get into a rehab, quit drinking and get on your feet again !”
He said he could do that. I asked him how we could help, but he didn’t know. Listening to the conversation Linda said, “I don’t want to go to the rehab.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy said, he picks up cans to make a living. He said, “I do alright with cans, and people give me the money, food, you know…they help me out. I got my (life) pretty good, you know.”
I asked Jimmy whether he would continue to live in Bullhead Park, or if he would really like to live in a house.
He said he plans to live in an apartment once he gets his ID and social security card, lost along with his wallet, but he can’t do that right now.
I was curious whether Jimmy thought people really stop to consider how hard it is to make a fresh start when you’ve lost everything.
Linda answered the question, saying, “You lose your ID when you’re out here, and you can’t get ID without (an ID), unless they know who you are, and it’s hard, you know, it’s hard.”
I asked Linda what she would say to people who after looking at her and Jimmy would write them off as just a couple of “bums” who “choose” to live in the park.
She answered, “I’d tell the people just because we’re homeless we’re not bums.”
Jimmy said he would tell people, “Why not spend a whole week (here), just one week, and then you can call me a bum.”
I suggested that a day may be all it would take for some people. Linda agreed, saying, “Try it for one day. Go out picking up cans all day.”
I said, “And it’s no fun, is it ?”
Linda quickly said, “No, no.”
I told Linda that our presence in Bullhead Park that afternoon was made possible by Summit Electric’s Vic Jury, who had donated our “Lifeline of Hope” Wagon, and lots of generous people in Albuquerque who care about their plight and support Joy Junction.
Linda said, “I’m working on it. I’m gonna get back on my feet. It might take me another month.”
I reiterated to Linda that we were there for her and Jimmy. She said, “Thank you all for the sandwich. We was hungry. We was just thinking about what we was going to eat. Thank God, we was so hungry.”
Jimmy added, “Yeah, and here you guys come on over.”
I silently thanked the Lord for His faithfulness (and your generosity) that we were there for Linda and Jimmy to satisfy such a simple need.
Linda and Jimmy’s plight touched me deeply. At one point some years ago, I would have quickly dismissed their circumstances as being the result of a series of poor choices. I can no longer do that, but how easy it is to do so. That’s because we feel justified with such a quick dismissal.
Many of us judge Jimmy and Linda, while neglecting to find out their story and start forming a relationship with them. To befriend them without judgment, and get beyond their external circumstances and appearance, could play a major part in helping them permanently get back on their feet. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do ?
Now while we are thrilled to be the your representatives, and the Loving Hands of Jesus extended, to the homeless and hungry here in Albuquerque, we can’t do it without your prayerful and financial support.
With that in mind, will you ask the Lord for your level of involvement in Joy Junction’s almost quarter-century old ministry of compassion to Linda and Jimmy and the thousands of other precious hurting souls like them. Your prayerful and financial commitment are investments which make an eternal difference.
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