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Vagrants are People Too

A few years ago, there was a fire in a local and abandoned motel. “Vagrants” were speculated to be the cause.At least, that was according to a local official in Albuquerque, New Mexico, speaking back then on a local newscast at the time of the fire.

This afternoon, along with another Joy Junction staff member and colleagues from a variety of other agencies with whom we frequently collaborate, I spent the afternoon doing outreach to some of the economically challenged and just plain desperate areas of our city.

‘Home Away from Home.’

One of the locations we visited was an old abandoned motel where several people were living in rather squalid circumstances. They would probably be referred to as “vagrants” by many residents of the Duke City.

But over the years, I’ve began to have problem with that word. It’s very negative and impersonal, and when we depersonalize people we usually do so in an attempt to relieve ourselves of any responsibility for that person.

I wanted an “official” definition and went to the Encyclopedia Britannica online. Here is part of what I found (www.britannica.com/eb/article-9074623/vagrancy).

A vagrant is “someone who has no established home and drifts from place to place without visible or lawful means of support. Traditionally a vagrant was thought to be one who was able to work for his maintenance but preferred instead to live idly, often as a beggar. The punishment for this ranged from branding and whipping to conscription into the military services and transportation to penal colonies…

“In the United States and northern Europe, vagrancy must generally be accompanied by the act of begging before it becomes punishable. Usually local authorities merely encourage the vagrant to move on, relieving themselves of the financial burden of maintaining the offender.”

As I thought more about vagrancy, I realized that a vagrant is a real human being just like you and me. A vagrant has a mother and father who at least at one time loved that person. That vagrant has a name like John, Mike, Anne or Susan.

“Vagrants” were created by Jesus Christ; having a body, soul and spirit and despite how they look or smell are those for whom Jesus Christ died. Even Jesus Himself could have been so named in His day. Had you ever thought that Jesus is in the vagrant transformation business?

A “vagrant” has emotions, hurts, hopes, fears just like you and me. And just like you and me they want to be loved. It’s harder to dismiss someone when we describe them in terms like this, isn’t it?

But to return to the “vagrants” of yesteryear, and even the individuals who are now living in the hotel we visited today.

What do you think was going through their mind as they spent the night there? Were they perhaps thinking about parents and children whom they hadn’t seen for years, and other failed relationships, a series of dead end jobs, a lack of education, shattered hopes and dreams that led them to make a series of bad choices that may have included alcohol and drug abuse? Or were they just merely thinking how cold it was and what they could do to keep warm?

Perhaps it was all these circumstances which resulted in them breaking into those abandoned motels, both then and now?

Am I justifying that behavior, some of you may ask? Not at all, but I am asking you to consider whether some of you may have made similar choices if you had been faced with misfortunes experienced by those whom we write off as “vagrants.”

Rather than dismissing people who don’t fit into our cosy cultured perspective and consequently encouraging them to move on (and let’s admit it, that’s so much easier to do than to deal with the problem), isn’t it time that we addressed, with the Lord’s help, the issues that led to those behaviors and provided help offered in a spirit of compassion?

I would hate to think what may have happened to me if people years ago had written me off as a “vagrant.” In Feb. 1982, I arrived homeless and almost penniless in Santa Fe. I was miserable and felt like a complete failure. If the Great American Dream was still possible, it was a reality which back then I was far from experiencing.

I had no friends on whom I could call for help, but the next day after spending the few dollars I had on a motel I did make my way to a local church. There I was warmly greeted and given the opportunity to tell my story to a church member who offered me a place to stay in the government-assisted housing where he and his family were living.

A few days later I was offered a place to stay in the basement office of a local businessman who put me to work painting some of his apartments. Of course, after witnessing my attempts at painting I think he wondered about his judgment, but he was gracious enough to keep me around until I found steady work at a local hotel.

But here’s the moral of the story. These individuals, back then, could have quite easily written me off as a vagrant or beggar who should be sent on his way. It would have been much easier to do that. But instead they assumed responsibility for me, prayed for my situation and freely gave the tools to help me get back on my feet again.

Joy Junction’s 25th anniversary this year is a direct result of the Lord’s faithfulness but also their efforts, because without the kindness of these people I have no idea where I would be today.

So try it. If you are part of a church family and “vagrants,” also known as homeless persons or families come to you, help them. If you are unable to do so, then do the next best thing and refer them to us here at Joy Junction or to a shelter in your area.

Remember that your doing so will be in direct response to Deuteronomy 15:11 which says, “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'”

You never know what results it might produce.



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, http://www.joyjunction.org 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 “Homeless in the City.”

Additional details on “Homeless in the City” are available at http://www.homelessinthecity.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at jeremyreynalds@comcast.net.



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