She was referred to as the woman in the red coat but I knew her as Joan. She was an everyday presence in our community: a small, slight lady who was very timid, kept to herself and spent her days walking the sidewalks of La Grange with her roller suitcase. Over the years, women in the community would collect donations to purchase Joan new puffy red coats with gift cards tucked in the pockets, replacement roller suitcases and any other items they believed she needed. She reluctantly accepted help.
At BEDS, where I work, we tried desperately to help her more but she often refused many of the services we offered. Joan’s independence and mental health issues kept us at a distance. We engaged with her on her terms continually hoping to ease her into accepting more assistance as we earned her trust over time.
We lost Joan in the summer of 2018. She went to the hospital due to an accident. While there it was revealed she had a terminal illness. She passed quickly thereafter. The community was saddened and astonished to realize that Joan – our lady in the red coat - had been walking the neighborhood with such an illness, most likely in pain, and never asked for help.
Our planned Summit Service Center aims to help people like Joan. Not only will it provide up to 24 months of fixed site, interim housing for medically vulnerable homeless adults, the Summit Service Center also will improve access to regional community-based and public resources. Together with long-standing and trusted partners, BEDS Plus will increase access to health care, mental health services and housing programs in a community at the heart of its service territory.
I would want Joan’s life and memory to help someone else down the road. For every door to be open and opportunities available for similar individuals to have some dignity and thoughtful care in their life.
My hope is that Joan’s story helps us all be more open and caring to others, especially since we do not really understand their circumstances. We all wanted to help Joan in whatever way we could. We all wished it could have been more and provided more dignity to her life.
Her puffy red coat,
worn no matter what the weather,
while she pulled her luggage while walking,