Church-based ministry helping America's homeless families

Published 30 July 2011  |  
It started as a single person, coming from Britain, with dreams about "ministry" helping the homeless in America.

After a long journey, including being homeless, running a shelter in another city, and numerous trials, Jeremy Reynalds now runs the largest emergency shelter in New Mexico, Joy Junction. Joy Junction, a church-based ministry, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and is a bell weather for many organisations across the nation concerning the plight of the homeless

After 25 years, word of Joy Junction made it back to Reynalds' home via You Tube.

On July 11, a film crew of three from the BBC arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico to film at Joy Junction.

Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC Newsnight, had embarked on a story highlighting the parallels of John Steinbeck's classic work "The Grapes of Wrath" and the current economic environment in the United States.

His goal was to point out the similarities between the Joad family in Steinbeck's work and the current homeless population. Following a path similar to Steinbeck's, he started off in El Reno, Oklahoma, and would end in Bakersfield, California.

In a sport coat and casual dress, Reynalds met with Paul Mason and the BBC production team. Three families from Joy Junction had been asked to tell their story and were eager to be interviewed. It wasn't drugs, or alcohol or even domestic violence that made them homeless; it was the economy.

Reynalds said, "This is such a wonderful opportunity for Joy Junction and America's homeless population. Hopefully, this will bring to light the fact that homelessness has a very diverse population. Homelessness is not synonymous with addiction."

As the BBC crew walked around Joy Junction's 52 acres, they were astounded by a few things. It seemed to them that everyone was in good spirits.

The other thing that was immediately apparent was the number of children.

"The two fastest growing populations in the homeless community are families and veterans. We see it every day. And we see it just increasing", said Reynalds, when asked about what type of people they see.

Of the 300 people whom Joy Junction helps per night, 70 to 80 are children. More than half the children will be attending the local elementary school.

Mason began to ask frank questions about what people thought was the reason for such an economic problem.

He received answers like, "The government is spending money on war, not the economy."

"We got a little stimulus, but that just made things better for a bit. Where is the long-term solution?"

While filming the third interview, one of the BBC production people expressed a bit of his frustration; "It makes me so angry to see a country as rich as America, having such a large problem with homelessness."

The plan for the next morning was for Reynalds to show them around some of downtown Albuquerque's hotels where homeless individuals and families congregate. Some of these hotels have numerous families that are staying there because they have no other choice. Joy Junction's mobile lunch wagon, the Lifeline Of hope helps to provide for these families immediate needs, helping with the daily decision "do I pay for food, or the room".

Reynalds took the BBC crew to a section of Central Avenue, right off the highway, where there are a string of hotels advertising cheap room rates.

"These places fill up in the first two weeks, after benefit checks are paid and when they run out, they empty and people drift over to Joy Junction," Reynalds informs the crew.

"Now I see the cheap hotels in a new light. This is where America's hidden homeless live," Paul Mason wrote in the final article "In Steinbeck's footsteps: America's middle-class underclass".

Reynalds shared a few thoughts about the experience:

"It is so nice to see a news reporting agency like the BBC take an interest in the plight of the homeless. Hopefully, this will help raise awareness, and encourage people to get involved in their own communities."

The BBC departed later that day, continuing their journey to Bakersfield, California by way of Phoenix, Arizona, with a whole new perspective on the United States and the underserved homeless population.

The Newsnight story, "In Steinbeck's footsteps: America's middle-class underclass ", aired on July 28 on BBC Newsnight and BBC World News.

You can watch the televised article, in its entirety, at www.bbc.co.uk/newsnight

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