Despite my increasingly burning and aching head, the pain of which was beginning to come to a crescendo from the almost six hour cross-Albuquerque trek on Joy Junction’s Lifeline of Hope, my plight was minimal compared to the emotional and physical trauma routinely experienced by the homeless.
In the midst of the scorching heat, I experienced a momentary chill as I thought of all the homeless just in Albuquerque who had no bed with clean sheets and a fluffy quilt to look forward to that night. Their “bed” would be an abandoned house, an alleyway, a bumpy field, or perhaps asphalt similar to where I had just knelt.
They would sleep with one eye open, as vigilant as their weary body would allow them to be for unseen dangers of the night. For many of them those dark hours would be a time of terror, not one of refreshing and relaxation.
My mind returned to the heat and our recent series of burning days. I realized yet again that summer just compounds the difficulties routinely experienced by the homeless. And while we don’t typically spend a whole lot of time thinking about the homeless in the summer, there’s an obviously increased chance of sunburn, dehydration, and other heat related illnesses.
In addition, people with medical conditions who are homeless should be extremely careful about where they spend their days. That’s something very difficult to control if you’re homeless and not wanted in many areas of Albuquerque (or whichever city you may happen to find yourself) The homeless are often unwelcome in a city’s safe and cool areas, so exhaustion may cause them to take (illegal) refuge in an old abandoned house perhaps once used for shooting up drugs. Before they know it they’re either cited for trespassing and given a ticket they can’t pay, or rounded up and taken off to jail for a previous trespassing warrant. Their time in jail just compounded their already precarious financial situation.
As Joy Junction Volunteer Coordinator Jonathan Matheny, once homeless himself, told me, “Many people have never thought about waking up in the morning to an already oppressively hot sun, knowing it’s just going to get worse and worse as the long hours drag on. Your energy and emotional reserve is already depleted before you get up.”
Jonathan took me through a hypothetical but typically difficult day that may be experienced by many homeless people living on the streets.
He said, “The shade you thought would be there is not, as the sun is now climbing rapidly, baking the earth you used as a bed. Though it is still early, the heat woke you up. Shielding your eyes, you try to stretch your creaking arms and legs, maybe stretching your back, brushing off the rocks and twigs clinging to you. Tossing aside whatever recyclable material you are using for a sheet, you immediately look for a place in the shade.”
From those people I’ve talked to I know a homeless person will then get his or her few belongings together, and start that necessary but dreaded daily trek with no particular destination in mind. There’s something terribly discouraging about walking just because you have to. You’re not doing so because you want to, or because you know the exercise is beneficial. Having no place to rest necessitates walking. As you prepare to do so, you’re hoping that you won’t get too many disparaging looks or get beaten up. You haven’t been walking for very long when thoughts of “what’s the point?” begin to flash across your already weary discouraged mind and tired body.
Jonathan said, “Sometimes people don’t stop to think. There are no swamp coolers available, and definitely no refrigerated air for the homeless. There’s no place to escape the heat. Even in the shade, the few degrees decrease does not protect you from the dry wind. The more you walk, the more exhausted you get. The combination of dehydration and crippling heat are starting to take their toll on you. You are fast getting weary, and you know you need to quickly find some type of sustenance or you fear passing out on the street.”
You begin to get wearier. Your tiredness gives rises to internal turmoil. Suddenly you start to become depressed, and as your emotional weariness compounds with your physical tiredness, you realize you just can’t continue another step. Fortunately, you’re just a few feet from a half empty strip mall. You stagger behind the building and plop wearily down, hoping that you have at least a few minutes before someone calls the police to move you on. Even though you don’t want to be found, you’re still hoping that someone kind will somehow know that you’re behind the building and offer you a cold drink and encouragement.
As the minutes drag on and that doesn’t happen, you get even more depressed. You suddenly realize that the depression you’re feeling could be caused at least in part by a lack of medication. A couple of night’s ago, a month’s worth of potent medication for depression and some other mental health issues were stolen as you slept with one eye open. You realize that it would probably have been better and safer to have “rested” with two eyes open.
You’re getting more and more weary and just wanting someone who cares to notice your plight-someone who cares-not someone who would just tell you to move on. “Move on to where?” you ask yourself rhetorically.
Then, as Jonathan reminded me, after talking to many homeless people who have been in this terrible predicament, you suddenly get a case of the “maybe’s.”
You silently think, “Maybe I’ll find food.” “Maybe I’ll find water.” “Maybe I’ll find shelter.” “Maybe if I don’t make it, I’ll die knowing that someone cares.”
“Maybe” is all that you have left.
Then you hear a loud horn. You’ve heard the sound once or twice before but not enough to be overly familiar with what it means. You’re hoping it’s not some branch of law enforcement. You want to go see what the horn means, but you don’t have the physical or mental energy to do so. Just as you’re about to sink back down again, the engine gets louder and the truck rounds the corner to within a few feet of where you’re crouched. You hear a voice saying, “Hello! Are you hungry? We’ve got sack lunches, water, pasta and chicken salad and more.”
You breathe a sigh of relief and start crying. God has answered the prayer that you never really prayed. He knew what you needed. The care and concern in the voice, and the look of love in their eyes of the truck’s occupants as they come toward you, are the injection of hope you need for your desperate and seemingly insurmountable situation.
Jonathan commented, “As you eat and accept the offer of prayer, for the first time in a very long time, you feel that someone cares. You stay around for a bit, and meet with a few other hungry souls as well. As you hear their stories, they all share the same feeling. Their despondency and the insurmountable difficulties of the ‘daily grind’ are brightened, at least temporarily, by the appearance of the Lifeline of Hope. It is a welcome oasis in the middle of life’s desert.”
Lifeline staff leave you a couple of business cards with a toll free phone number on the back, assuring you that help of a more permanent nature is only a phone call away.
An hour later, The Lifeline leaves. You sit back down, but this time things feel different. You have the strength necessary to face the day and think about what you need to do, with God’s Help, to get your life back on track.
Joy Junction’s Lifeline of Hope is a tangible of expression of the love of Jesus Christ. While its services are important in the winter, they’re just as essential in the baking heat we’re now experiencing. Will you help us not only maintain, but perhaps even expand, this vitally needed outreach of compassion?
Jeremy Reynalds, Assist News Service