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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Wellers’ Homeless Story — No 18

Chaplains Steven & Regina Weller_edited-1

Chaplains Steven & Regina Weller of the LAPD Homeless Task Force

  The Tamale Miracle
(Names changed for confidentiality)

Note:  No group matches the Steve-Regina Weller team for finding permanent-supportive homes for the homeless. Donations may be sent to the Wellers as follows:  Checks should be addressed to Homeless Task Force, 1400 Riviera Ave, Venice, CA 90291.

By Regina Weller

It was July 2015 and a very hot day, but I mustered up the energy to drive to Long Beach to encourage a woman who was having a meltdown. Well, the advantage in it for me was that half a block down from the collaborative living apartments, they sell these tasty tamales, two for $3, and I thought that it would hit the spot with a nice cool ice-tea.

Sarah, the woman I was going to visit, was still shell-shocked from having to move from Venice into shared housing in Long Beach with three other women. After all, she had once been a college literature professor and labeled herself as highly intelligent and a feminist. This was the worst place she fussed: the area was small and she swore she saw a cockroach the night before, and the women were mental.

We went out to her car to talk privately, “Do you feel your life is in danger? Or would you rather sleep in your car on the street” I politely asked. “Now that you put it that way, Regina, no this is still better, and the women are actually nice. I’m just embarrassed that my health has deteriorated, that I didn’t save money, and that I lost my apartment in Venice.”

I classified her as “derailed,” not a person who would likely become homeless, but can’t fit into the disability category for benefits, and not quite of age to receive retirement checks. Ok, so within our forty-five minute chat, we took the negative into a positive note and I felt that the goal today was accomplished: Sarah has overcome the present day’s hurdles, she has accepted the housing as a step up from real disaster like sleeping on the street. It was a matter of time before she would be back in business, I assured her.

Prior to leaving, I invited Sarah to join me for the tamales sold down the block at the corner store, a tad greasy, but nonetheless tasty. She made a grimace at the thought of tamales so I bid her farewell and got into my car and parked directly across the street from the family neighborhood store. When I entered the store, there were several people at the counter and more meandering through the narrow aisles so it was kind of crowded. The owner had a stern attitude as he tried to patiently deal with the kids clustered at the counter. I knew I should only have one, but I requested two chicken tamales which were pulled from the warm compartment.

Instead of driving off to the freeway four blocks ahead, I decided to sit and eat the meal right there in my car. The heat from the corn masa harina permeated through the air, and relaxed my senses enough to people watch. Then something caught my attention, I spotted HIM right off, not only because he was so very dirty and disheveled, but because he was wearing a wool jacket and it was of a rather bright rust color.

He was hanging out at the corner of the store peering down into the trash can outside, and every now and then he’d almost pull a piece of garbage out, but then change his mind. It was obvious that he was hungry. Then he’d move away and stare into the store and almost walk in, but then decide not to, and there he’d be back and forth between the trash can and the store entrance. I was fixated on his uncertainty, when all of a sudden he reaches in his inside jacket pocket and pulls out the Biggest Gun! It was so very visible against his orange jacket! My breath stopped and my thoughts raced: WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS INSIDE? I HADN’T SEEN THEM COME OUT! WHAT ABOUT THE STORE OWNER, HE’D BE PREPARED TO SHOOT! AND WHAT ABOUT THIS FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD?! AND ALL BECAUSE THIS GUY IS SO DARN HUNGRY??!!

I threw my half-eaten tamale to one side, quickly started up my car and steered over to where I could catch his attention. I raised up the other tamale dangling and swinging in its plastic bag, “HEY! I called out to him, “DO YOU WANT A TAMALE?” He zeroed in on it and rushed over without missing a beat. When he grasped it from the car window, I blurted out, “Don’t Do It Man, PLEASE Don’t Do It! Walk that way toward the Mission, there’s food and help there.” He ripped back the corn wrap and uttered a thank you, then hurried back toward the store, tossing the gun into the bin and headed out in the direction of the Mission.

My car was still running, I managed to stir out of shock and make a quick left. In two minutes I was on the freeway, relieved to be heading home to my husband, but my mind could not stop recycling the events: I questioned whether I should have guilt at not having notified the police, but after all, no crime had occurred! I kept visualizing the store patrons and the jacket and the trash can and the gun, and I was so glad that I had bought TWO tamales! And I prayed, “O God, please help him, he was so hungry and is so troubled!!

About six months had gone by and I was transporting another woman to acquire housing at the same location. I drove right past the store and parked in front of the landlord’s office. There were people on the sidewalk, the tenants coming and going from the apartments, and then there HE WAS! But now he was a TENANT at the shared housing! My surprise exploded: HE MADE IT! HE MADE HIS WAY! HE’S GOING TO BE ALRIGHT!

He was clean and healthy with a nice haircut. I had to walk right past him and I looked back to sneak a peek, and he did the same. His face questioned that maybe he knew me from some time back, from some particular place, for some reason not known to him now, so distant in his memory bank, a familiar passing – yet only half a block from the corner store where they sell the most enticing tamales, $1.50 a piece, warm and inviting, perfect even for a hot summer day.

Donations may be sent to the Wellers as follows:  Checks should be addressed to Homeless Task Force, 1400 Riviera Ave, Venice, CA 90291.

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