KINDNESS: Julie Lee Gives Homeless Hope, A Hand Up
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KINDNESS: Julie Lee Gives Homeless Hope, A Hand Up

6 Min Read
September 18, 2020

All she wanted was a chance for her teenage daughter to see the larger world.

So, six years ago, Julie Lie brought her daughter to volunteer for Urban Community Outreach, a nonprofit based in Long Beach's First Congregational Church that provides meals and services for people who are homeless.

"I was just so frustrated by her way of not ever looking beyond herself," Lie said in a recent interview, noting her daughter was 14 or 15 at the time. "I'm thinking, 'This girl is not ever going to see there's bigger problems than her."

But Lie didn't expect the visit to transform herself.

Lie and her daughter worked in the kitchen that Sunday to prepare a meal for those who were homeless. Lie took a moment, though, to wander into the dining room and talk to the folks who had stepped in for a meal.

"I just talked to them on a personal level, just up close and personal — nothing formal about it at all, really," she said. "I was just really attracted to the opportunity to get to know these people better."

Lie knew she would be back.

And she was — nearly every week for the next six years. She started off as a weekly volunteer. A few months later, the leadership at Urban Community Outreach asked her to join the board, so she did. Then, two years ago, the executive director left, and Lie stepped up to fill the role.

The experience, she said, has been rewarding. Lie was trained in civil engineering, and that background colors her approach to every individual who needs help.

"To, me this is one of the biggest problems in our community," she said of homelessness, "and I just wanted to help figure out how to solve this problem.

"And that's sort of how I approach all the different people I meet," Lie added. "Individually, they all have a different set of problems, so I make a list, and we go one by one how to solve all of their list of things."

The people she has helped don't understand how she does it.

Tammy Winchell lived on the streets for two years, and she tried seeking help from multiple agencies. But it wasn't until Winchell met Lie that she felt like someone truly cared.

"When you're homeless, you're surrounded constantly," Winchell said. "It is the most lonely but most public experience ever. You're completely alone, yet not."

But with Lie, she felt less alone.

Through Urban Community Outreach, Lie helped Winchell secure a job. When Winchell found housing, Lie gave her a mattress and a couch to furnish it.

It's also the little, things, though, Winchell said. Like the silly random texts that Lie sends to check in: "How are you today?" "It's a beautiful morning."

"I feel like I am her only person," Winchell said. "That's how she makes me feel."

But Winchell knows that's not the case.

Lie helped Eldrick Mims gather the money for a deposit on an apartment. She also gave him furniture. She continues to offer him food, utensils and hygiene essentials.

And when Mario Bernal Rosales lost his job in April, Lie used Urban Community Outreach's rent assistance program to help keep him in his home. Lie still provides him with groceries for his family.

The list goes on.

"For me and my family," Bernal Rosales said, "she's been like an angel."

And the coronavirus pandemic — which caused Long Beach's unemployment rate to jump from 4.5% in January to 19.5% in June — has only increased the need for the services that Urban Community Outreach provides.

Lie said the organization has already written more than 100 rent assistance checks this year — up from a total of 27 last year.

"We've never come close to that," she said. "So that has been impactful."

In her time with Urban Community Outreach, Lie has touched more people than others may help in a lifetime.

So, she decided, it's time to move on. Lie's last day with the organization was Friday, Sept. 4.

But while she's stepping away from her leadership role, she's not leaving behind the people she's helped. Lie will continue to volunteer at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, which offers meals, clothing, amenities and hot showers most weeks to people who are homeless.

And she will maintain the relationships she's already built.

"I am not leaving those people," she said, "because a lot of what I do has to do with advocating for them and giving them the confidence and the knowledge to move themselves forward."

Lie said that people who have been homeless understand how quickly their lives can become upended. So even when people she meets — like Winchell or like Mims — nail down a job or find housing, that's not the end of their journey toward recovery.

When challenges pop up along the way, she said, "if you don't have a parent, if you don't have an aunt or anybody to tell you, 'Yes you can do this,' you sort of feel like maybe it's over.

"They've been homeless, which, as you can imagine, destroys every fiber of confidence you might have in humanity and yourself," Lie said. "So they just need to hear, 'Okay, you can do this.'"