Being the transportation manager for a homeless shelter might not sound much. That’s what Lisa Woodward initially thought, when we offered her the job. A few months later, she has a whole new perspective on her position.
Joy Junction provides 24- hour van service in the Albuquerque metro and surrounding area in an attempt to ensure that as many people as possible needing our help have the ability to do so.
Recently Lisa wanted to experience firsthand some of the issues faced by her driving crew. With that in mind, she recently worked the midnight to 8am shift on the two nights her regularly scheduled driver is off. It’s a whole different world in Albuquerque after midnight. With Lisa’a help, let me give you a peek into an Albuquerque netherworld known only to a relative few.
Lisa loaded up coffee and sack lunches, and took off. The snacks are for those individuals who for whatever reason will spend the night on Albuquerque’s dangerous and unfriendly streets. For these precious folk, a rock, or a clump of dirt will be their pillow.
Lisa’s first stop that night was a dumpster in a small downtown alley. Chaos is the street name for the man she found who lives there. He’s in his upper 70’s, Lisa said, and told her he’s been homeless for at least 20 years. Lisa said the conversation is always heart breaking.
Lisa greeted Chaos and handed him a cup of coffee. She said, “I never fill it all the way, or with his tremble he would wear more than he drank. I handed him a sack lunch and ask him to come in with me to Joy Junction. ‘No Ma’am Miss Lisa,’ he responded. ‘I live these streets and I’ll die on ’em.’”
Lisa said, “I gave him his other half cup of coffee and a hug, and told him I will check on him a little later. He told me to be safe and that these alleys are no place for a lady. I assured him I would be fine and drove on.”
Lisa’s next stop would be a spiritual and emotional challenge. She made her way to a spot she knew is routinely frequented at night by the homeless. She said there are usually several people, but not on this night. However, she wanted to be sure.
Lisa said, “I parked at the dumpster and turned my lights off. That’s a signal to the homeless I’m not the police coming to move them on. However, still no one.”
Suddenly, Lisa was startled by the sound of what she believed was a baby crying. She said, “ I got out of the van to investigate. I looked all around the dumpster but saw nothing. I know it was late and I was on my fifth energy drink, but I know what a baby sounds like.”
Lisa got a crate from the van and climbed up the side of the tallest dumpster. To her amazement, there huddled in the corner was a young mother and a set of twins. Lisa found out the woman had been in the dumpster for three days.
She said, “I gave the mother coffee, food and blankets. She had been beaten by her boyfriend and was scared for her children. I begged her to come in with me, but she said Joy Junction was the first place he would look.”
Lisa’s assurances of safety did not help. However, the woman did have a cell phone and called the Domestic Violence Hotline. The woman was transported by police to a safe haven.
Lisa said, “I didn’t have it in me to do much more outreach that night. The sky was beginning to brighten. I headed to the safety and sanity of Joy Junction feeling a little bit like a coward.”
The following night Lisa again hit the streets. She pulled up to a homeless hot spot where she saw about 15 people sleeping, ages ranging from teens to the elderly. She began giving everyone something to eat, and chatted about their day.
As she did, a young police officer pulled in. He walked over to Lisa and asked her if she was from Joy Junction.
Lisa asked him if there was a problem. He said not a legal one.
“At this point,” Lisa said, “my friends started to surround me. Having street friends can be a help or hindrance depending on the situation, and this was quickly turning toward the latter.”
Lisa said she signaled for them to step down. Lisa said if there wasn’t a legal issue, then what was the problem? The officer’s answer floored her, understandably hurt and angered the homeless, and amazed me. I realize his response is in no way representative of the hundreds of fine officers who are caring members of the Albuquerque Police Department.
Lisa recalled, “The officer said I should realize that by coming out there every night, giving to the ‘bums’ that I just enabled them to continue to sit on their behinds. If they had to stand up for themselves, they would be better off.”
Lisa said the officer then turned and walked away. As he did, some of the older homeless people there with Lisa began suggesting to their younger friends that they should pray for the officer that he never ended up homeless. Over the next half hour that Lisa stayed, emotions shifted from anger to compassion and right back again.
First Night and Then Day
When she’s not working graveyards, Lisa works days, although she begins her work day far earlier than I like to, usually between 5 am and 6 am each morning. As soon as she can, Lisa said she touches base with her night driver to bring her up to speed on what’s been going on in the preceding hours.
Lisa said while her experience finding the young woman with the youngsters in the dumpster was exceptional, our night driver often provides a ride to safety for victims of domestic violence.
For example, she said, he may have to go ferret out a young woman with a child at her side. She’s been hiding behind something while praying that her abuser doesn’t find her prior to our van locating her.
Lisa said, “Many of these abuse victims have not faced homelessness before. Quite often the fear of being homeless overpowers the fear of going home to another night of hell. At this point our staff member is no longer just a driver for JJ. He or she becomes ‘an angel in the night.’ Sometimes it is very overwhelming, and you find your mind and heart racing.”
Lisa said the graveyard driving shift is routinely an emotional roller coaster for our staff.
Lisa then gives some words of encouragement to our morning shift driver. Morning driving responsibilities are very different from graveyard. At that time, our drivers are taking many people downtown from Joy Junction. The upcoming hours will be ones that for some of our guests will be used to get them back on their feet again and reintegrated into mainstream community life.
For others, it is just another day of having to go downtown and pass the time until our vans appear again later that day to pick them up.
Lisa said while there are a variety of people with dramatically different personalities rushing to get ready for the van, they all have one thing in common. At this point, they all need to go somewhere and our vans have the ability to help them achieve that goal.
However, it’s not at all easy. Lisa said, “My morning driver spends the first few hours of her shift listening to our guests problems. They range from the hardships of staying at a shelter, to what their day will be like once they step off the van. Some (are scared). They don’t have any idea how they’ll spend the next few hours until our van comes to pick them up.”
Lisa said, “Some of our guests have mental health problems, or a past that has caught up to them. Others just don’t possess the skills to hit the deck running and do a job search. Whatever the case may be, it leaves the driver rendered helpless, to stop the never ending pain.”
Lisa said, “Our drivers come back to property asking me what else we can do. ‘ I really don’t have any answers,’ Lisa tells them.
At that point, Lisa said, our driver often looks at her sadly, but continues on with her day picking up donations for the shelter.
Lisa said, “It’s a never-ending cycle to do all we can for the Lord’s children who have nothing.”
Lisa takes care of some of her management responsibilities, and almost before she knows, it’s close to shift change time. Lisa said the evening shift driver makes his downtown pickups and everyone (or at least many of those people who made their way downtown that morning) is brought back to the safety of Joy Junction.
However, some of our guests have had a dramatically different day than they one they expected just a few hours ago. Some of them have been jumped, fallen back on alcohol to get through the day, or had to deal with seems like a million and one issues.
As a result, Lisa said, our evening driver deals with everything. Issues range from the mother who says she has been in the hot sun with her children for an hour, “so where the hell have you been?” to the confused and rambling individual who invariably picks our driver to “befriend.”
Lisa said, “With a smile and patience the driver reaches down and gets the child a cold bottle of water, listens with an understanding ear to the woes of others, and gets them home for a good solid meal and a safe night’s sleep.”
Lisa said, “By the end of his or her shift they have put as many miles on their hearts as they have on the wheels of the vehicles they drive.”
Lisa said she’s come to realize she doesn’t just manage a van service or supervise employees driving all over Albuquerque.
She said, “We are the first of many staff the guests see and speak to. We set the stage for what their opinion will be of Joy Junction, and if they will feel safe or badgered. We are the touch stone to scream at while we are at a stand still between runs, and a gateway to a different world than any of them have seen.”
Lisa recalled the bumper sticker, “Precious cargo onboard.” “Yes,” she said, “I carry God’s lost children home.”
I so appreciate the hours Lisa and her crew put in for Joy Junction. The work they do is not easy. I hope that this short story will encourage you to pray for them. They and their precious cargo need the Lord’s blessing, favor and protection.