Robert Hansen is everywhere. Through his advice in the vendor orientation video he has introduced hundreds of new vendors to Real Change. His picture hangs on the wall in Real Change's Robert Hansen Memorial Computer Lab. And now, donations are being collected inside the Seward Park PCC, in honor of the man who touched so many lives there by showing up each day with a stack of papers and a kind smile.
April 29 will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Robert, a long-time vendor. To those who knew him, the loss remains painful, but the memory clear. Born and raised around Seattle, Robert worked for years as a concessioner at Kingdome, a baker, a laborer, a meat processor -- anything that connected him to people and put his hard work to use.
In 1995, only months after the first issue hit the streets of Seattle, Robert discovered Real Change and started selling the paper. He quickly won over the hearts of customers everywhere from downtown Seattle to Columbia City. His 15 years with Real Change far exceeded the desire to just make a buck: He cared about fostering that love and friendship with his customers and bringing a smile to their faces. He cared about supporting his fellow vendors, and about changing a system that had let him and so many others down time and time again.
When a long-awaited job offer was retracted after discovery of a nine-year-old felony on his record, Robert stayed hopeful. When he realized his training as a road flagger would not lead to steady employment, he kept moving straight ahead. He saw nowhere to go but forward. Instead of growing bitter or passing blame, he became an advocate for the men and women whose voices were going unheard. He spoke up and told his story and theirs, about the people who want to work but can't get jobs, who work but can't get ahead, and who are tired of their worth being defined by their wealth.
The change Robert fought for was more profound than political. He seemed to recognize poverty as not only an economic issue, but also a human one. So he made friends and cracked jokes to make them laugh. He showed love to anyone and everyone. He built relationships and, one person at a time, steadily chipped away at the divisiveness that allows poverty to exist.
On Tuesday, April 27, 2010, Robert called the office to let them know he was too sick to come in the next morning to help unload the new paper. Two days later, he was gone, and Real Change witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of love and grief. Customers wrote in and called, friends left flowers in his place outside the Seward Park PCC, and his community gathered in a public service in City Hall Plaza. Pages of messages honoring him went on and on about his smile and his jokes, his hard work and his relentless kindness.
The response to Robert's death showcases beautifully the impact of his life. One year later, and things are moving forward. The fight's not won, but it's still being fought, which seems to be exactly what he would want.