The Downey Patriot’s stories about a homeless Julie brought an outpouring of bittersweet remarks on Facebook from people who felt they knew her already: “So saddd;” “I bought her a slice of pie;” “a bottle of water;” “I gave her some sunscreen because she had a severe sunburn,” “Some change,” “a few dollars,” “all the money I had.”
People offered prayers and sympathy and some gave practical advice: “Go to the Barbara Riley Senior Center. Lunch is served Monday through Friday, no one is turned away because they cannot pay.” But the comments all went onto Facebook, not to Julie.
On the likely chance that no one nor any agency had yet come forward to help her in a more permanent way, I wanted to give Julie something to keep up her spirits during the holidays. So I cut and pasted those Facebook squibs and stapled together a little booklet with about 40 cheery names and faces.
Although she can’t see to read because of macular degeneration, her sometimes landlady could read them to her. I was told there is a friendly Huntington Park motel where she goes by bus, when she has gotten the money.
But when I got to the post office, her place by the gray cinder brick wall was taken. Julie had been displaced by a man from the Salvation Army in a red vest who was ringing a bell and standing by a big black donation kettle.
Ironically, the Salvation Army, a faith-based organization, has a shelter right up the riverbed from Downey. Their Bell, Calif., shelter is the largest homeless shelter west of the Mississippi and offers transitional care for up to 350 homeless men and women.
But the program, like everything worthwhile, has a long waiting list. The Salvation Army does a remarkable job in offering shelter for three months up to a year, and training to get the homeless back into the job force. The program tries to make people independent and self-sufficient again.
But currently the facility in Bell operates as a rehab center for substance abusers, for abused women and for homeless vets. Julie does not qualify.
I went to the other places where Julie has been sighted, in front of Marie Callender’s, and at Stater Brothers. Dollar Tree and CVS Pharmacy. Safe places, family-frequented. But no Julie today.
I had hoped to hear from Julie that something good had come from the exposure in the Patriot, to stop this downward spiral. And during the intense rain we just had, I kept imagining how that must have make it impossible for her to stand outdoors and wait for charity and the kindness of strangers.
As one of her Facebook well-wishers said, “We all have a story, even the rude selfish people who find Julie annoying and of poor taste. The heart is deeper than we know, the fight is longer than we know, the ignorance is bigger than we know. We only know that we know better than to judge.”