Susan Russell helped build Safeco Field the Seahawk Exhibition Center and West Seattle Bridge.
Susan was a concrete mason until she was injured in a car accident. “It took away my trade forever. It devastated me mentally, physically.” Eventually, because of addiction problems, she went through long-term behavioral modification at a drug and narcotic center: “It literally saved my life.”
Susan still needed to earn a living. She got trained as a computer applications specialist, but her typing speed was below the required minimum. She found temporary jobs. “I worked for the AFL-CIO during an election. I recruited 846 people in the 32nd legislative district, and they made me sole volunteer coordinator there.”
There was another thing she had to face: She kept that she was homeless a secret. “I hid it from my friends and family. I couch surfed. I hid from the label.
“I’d known about Real Change for a few years. The first time I sold the paper was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. It was my public statement that I was homeless.” She’s glad she made that decision: “It’s reconnected me to society.” Susan sells at Ken’s Market in Greenwood, a neighborhood she lived in while growing up and where her first job was. “It feels like home, even though I stand and sell the paper. It’s an awesome community.”
Susan was homeless for six years. She struggles with PTSD from the trauma of being homeless. “I make a decision every day to either be happy or sad. I choose to be happy. I build on my achievements instead of dwelling on my failures.”
Now that she has temporary housing at the former Sand Point Naval Station, she has two big projects. One is expanding on her art. “I paint with inks, and I do beading. And I’m a clothing hacker: I reduce by reusing and cut up old things and make new things.” She has paper for her next painting, but needs to save money to pay for the ink. “I know where I’m going to go, but I don’t know exactly what it’ll be.”
The other project is getting her hip replaced. “I was born with a congenital [problem].” Her previous hip replacement has “gone really bad.” She’s in constant pain, but stays away from painkillers.
Susan spoke at recent city council hearings in favor of the tent encampment ordinance. “Things that I’ve gone through being homeless, no one should have to go through. This should not exist in our country. It’s circumstances or health problems, and you never know when it’s around the corner. You can lose everything in the blink of an eye.”
It was the first time she’d spoken at a public meeting in 10 years. It won’t be the last. “I plan on being a face now. There’s a lot of good people in this city. Together we can make a difference.”