Lisa Sawyer’s apartment building caught on fire last year; she and her boyfriend stayed in a motel for a month, but it was too expensive. Then they were on the streets. They got robbed, losing a computer, schoolbooks and their Social Security cards. They eventually ended up in Tent City 3.
“I was panhandling and during that time I had three or four [Real Change] vendors come up to me telling me I should try it out. I was getting older, and I didn’t like begging and holding up signs.” On her birthday last October she decided to start something new by selling the paper.
Tent City 3 turned out not to be a good fit. It was hard to sell Real Change six hours a day, plus doing required security shifts and community service. And, she says, stuff was getting stolen. Lisa and her boyfriend left, but being back on the street was worse — somebody shot at them. “It was so close you could hear the bullet going past.”
After that a friend helped them out: They were able to sleep in her truck, take a shower and sometimes get a home-cooked meal. They’re looking for an apartment, though, as Lisa says, “Places in Seattle are so freakin’ high. Some over a thousand dollars. I’m like, really? You really think people will spend that much on a place?”
A cheap one-bedroom might be affordable, however. Work is picking up for Lisa’s boyfriend, who does landscaping. And Lisa has reached the magic number of 300 papers a month, which gives her first priority on selling four hours a day at her location at Fourth and Union.
“It feels good to actually achieve something on my own, so I’m delighted by my spot.” She sings, “Tis the season to be happy — with Real Change!” and explains that she makes up little jingles like that when she’s selling. “Everybody says hi to me when they walk by. They sometimes just come over for a chit-chat.”
Lisa grew up in Seattle’s South End and graduated high school in 2006. She was a volunteer day camp counselor at Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club and at Brighton School as a teenager. Now in her late 20s, she’d like to get a full-time job, either working with pre-teen kids or in sales, the two kinds of work she’s proven she’s good at. “Younger kids, they’re really friendly with me. They all like me, and I can really connect to the younger generations.”
She says older kids — teenagers, that is — bring too much drama. Lisa values having a quiet life. “These days people that are older than me are more my friends than the people I grew up with. It’s totally different than having friends that come around to you, because of all the dramas they bring along.” Now the biggest drama Lisa looks for is in the movies she and her boyfriend watch. Her favorite right now is “The Hobbit.”