Louise Pulliam of Yakima knows too well the heartache of homelessness. Just two days before Christmas last year, her youngest son, Scott, died on the streets of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was just 44.
Louise, 81, didn’t know it at the time, but Scott had a heart condition and had likely run out of medicine he was supposed to take, according to a friend who phoned her the news.
Losing the youngest of her ten children to a preventable death stirred something in Louise’s already generous heart.
She and her grandson had each recently won $150 in a radio contest. Instead of indulging themselves, they spent the money on socks and hygiene items for homeless clients of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services at The Depot, the Union Gospel Mission and Rod’s House.
Louise told an employee of The Depot that to honor her son, she was going to donate anything she could to assist the homeless of Yakima, and earlier this week she arrived with three large bags. Her birthday had been over the weekend, but she informed her family and friends that she did not want a birthday party or gifts. If they wanted to do something for her, they could donate to the homeless.
It’s Louise’s way of keeping the memory of her late son close. Scott used to call his mother every week, and in one of their last conversations, he said he wanted to come home to Yakima.
“He said he made a mistake going back to Arkansas. He said, ‘I want to come home.’”
Hardship and loss are nothing new to Louise. As a young mother, she was a migrant farm worker, or “fruit tramp” as she calls it, during the 50s and 60s, following the harvest across the West. She had watched her mother’s hands grow gnarled and chapped from picking cotton in Arkansas and decided she would only work in orchards.
“To put nylon stockings on, she had to wear gloves,” Louise recalled.
Despite the loss of Scott, Louise said she’s grateful to God she’s still alive to enjoy her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And every year on her birthday, she vows to help Yakima’s homeless in some way, gathering donations of whatever they might need.
And she called on more people to understand homelessness as a way to honor Scott, who she said didn’t want to be without a home but who had anxieties about being in enclosed spaces. “He would stay with his sister here and in the morning she’d find him asleep outside.
“I want to do whatever I can to be helpful to these folks,” she said.