“A lady brought me a hot cocoa when it was raining,” said Julie. “I asked her if she had a plastic bag I could put over me, and she brought me one from her car. So then I could stand in the rain with a garbage bag over my shoulders to protect me. People have been good to me.”
“And when I was standing at Marie Calendar’s,” Julie said, “a lady who runs the bar across the street saw me. She came over and said, ‘I don’t want to see you standing in the rain.’ And she gave me enough money to rest that night in a motel.”
A “rest” is what Julie calls her motel stays, and they can be from one to three nights, depending if she can get a local charity to march what she has collected. “I had four good rests over the holidays,” she said.
“There’s a man here at the Post Office who’s being mean to me,” Julie said. “Actually, it’s a woman dressed like a man. She wants to stand here and told me to go. I can’t come till three in the afternoon.”
“Ask that person, do they own the Post Office?” I said. “You have a right to be here too.” “What’s the worst they can do to you, do you think they would hit you?” “No,” said Julie, “I don’t think they would do that.” “Stand up for yourself,” I said, and Julie straightened her shoulders and stood taller. Easy for me to say.
Julie was standing by the cinder brick wall in front of the Downey Post Office. It was a cool sunny January day and she had on a purple plaid flannel shirt and purple pants, and sturdy black shoes. “A lady bought me this outfit,” Julie said, her eyes bright. “And a nice gentleman bought me a sandwich.”
“Another gentleman came up and asked if he could bless me,” Julie said. “When I said yes, he put a large bill in my hand.”
Julie is grateful for small things like a sandwich and a garbage bag, items we use or discard every day and give no thought to at all. “People are good,” she said, with no trace of sarcasm or bitterness. “I’ve been so blessed.”
But Julie’s macular degeneration is progressive. And more winter weather is on the way.
The annual count of the homeless just took place in Downey, conducted by Lisa Barnett, with the City of Downey. Volunteer Andrew Wahlquist started from the First Baptist Church; and Mario Guerra, who is growing a grizzled beard, and Alex Saab, met at 5 Guys, with Martha Medford Sodetani. Will Julie be out there to be counted?
She had told me that when it rained hard she went to “the waiting room at one of the hospitals, or to a Jack in the Box. I go to different ones all the time,” she said.
On the day I saw Julie again, a family of four had gotten out of their car to talk to her. Their little boy had been chosen to put the family’s donation in her hand, a nice lesson in compassion. I asked her if she had seen a social worker, to assess her options. Yes, she said she had, and she was supposed to start getting SSI benefits, “enough to get a room.”
But Julie thinks getting approved may be delayed because of the government shutdown, and a check may not come as scheduled.
As another of Julie’s well-wishers said, “fingers crossed.”