Julie Tambourine was standing on the sidewalk Wednesday afternoon just south of the Whole Foods on Wyoming and Academy with her two dogs, Blue and Shale (pronounced Shayla). Wearing her bright pink and red outfit with a sign asking for help above the two dogs made her stand out to those passing by. As she was about to tell her story, a car pulled up and a hand reached out the passenger side window with what appeared to be a $5 bill. Tambourine thanked the passenger before taking the money and showing it to her dogs.
“Say thank you, Shale. Blue, say thank you,” Tambourine said. “They’re on an organic diet. It’s quite challenging when you don’t have a place to cook and refrigerate.”
Tambourine and her two dogs have been living out of a vehicle since 2006 after losing her home in Santa Fe. According to Tambourine, the home was destroyed after being sprayed with chemicals. “On July 20, 2006, I came home and almost died because Terminix had gone to the wrong address. And they had not only treated the wrong house, they treated my bees and everything I had in my organic garden,” Tambourine said.
The home had been specially built with nontoxic materials because Tambourine is extremely sensitive to chemicals. She said that in 1995 she was poisoned by pesticides in Auckland, New Zealand, while working as a flight attendant for United Airlines. “They used way too much pesticide. I was poisoned and I am 100% rated disabled,” Tambourine said.
“I’ve got things wrong with almost every organ system. Seriously. I have to live in a medically prescribed nontoxic house, which took many years to just figure out what I could tolerate,” Tambourine said. Perfumes, hairspray, potpourri and scented soaps had to be thrown out. Laundromats are a no-go, and the carbon monoxide spewing out the passing vehicles make Tambourine sick.
She said after Terminix sprayed her home in Santa Fe she could never go back. “Everyone who went into that house got sick. No realtor would list it because everyone got sick.” Even her service dog got sick and after going into convulsions, eventually died, Tambourine said. “It was obviously overkill. So, it’s a miracle I’m alive. I could never go back to the house.”
Tambourine said she filed a lawsuit against Terminix and won the case, but the company never paid for damages because of a technicality. She now lives off social security disability with her two dogs, roaming from place to place living out of her van. “My car’s got damage to it where snow comes right in. And I can’t go to a campground because I’m allergic to the smoke,” Tambourine said. “I try to do everything legal. So, I’m not camping out where homeless people are normally camping out. That’s not legal. I’m trying not to violate the laws. It’s very expensive. I drive hundreds of miles a day just trying to be legal.”
Tambourine said she’s contracted COVID twice and had pneumonia in the winter. She said her dog Blue has cataracts and Shale is autistic, making it more expensive and difficult for her to get by. On top of the medical issues, Tambourine has had bottles thrown at her, been harassed by cops and security guards, and has been kicked off street corners by drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. “The bottom line is, we’re going to die. We’re gonna die,” Tambourine said.
Despite the hardship and gloomy outlook, Tambourine tries to stay positive. She said she enjoys helping other people and is going to make a documentary about making safe, nontoxic homes. The biggest roadblock to getting a home for herself, she said, was getting the money for the down payment. “The biggest roadblock to getting a home is that I am disabled, and I can’t work,” Tambourine said. “I need to buy a piece of land with some money down. I can handle a mortgage easy. No problem.”
Getting the money for the down payment is the hard part. Tambourine can’t use a computer or raise money on social media because of her disability. She said she starts having seizures when staring at a screen for too long and the only way she knows how to save for a down payment is to raise money on the street. “This is my last right I have as an American citizen is to stand here and be humiliated,” Tambourine said.
She tries to keep her dignity and pride and doesn’t get mad when people in fancy cars don’t give her money. She said she understands that just because some people have nice homes and good jobs doesn’t mean they don’t carry a lot of debt and aren’t struggling themselves. “It can happen to the best of us,” she said. The people who do stop and give some money or just say a prayer are what help to keep her going.
“I try to use everything I learned to turn around a positive because it’s really hard psychologically to cope with,” Tambourine said. “I’m a type A person as far as really motivated. And if I can’t accomplish something I feel like I’m not worthy to take up space on the planet. I‘ve always wanted to just do something to help.”