More than 30 years ago, Addis Michael Jr. built bridges and high-rises in Savannah, Georgia. An accident at work put him in a coma for six months. “I never worked a day after that. My marriage went down the drain.” His wife moved to Seattle and he followed to be near his children.
He was panhandling when he started watching a Real Change vendor. “He used to go down and pick up papers at least four times a day. I said, ‘I need that kind of money.’” He started selling the paper in 2008.
At first, Addis was just using Real Change money to feed a drug habit. “People didn’t care what I did. They just bought papers. They would say kind things. I got to thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? All this money, and I’m just doing nothing with it.’ So I quit smoking, drinking, bumming. The people that bought my papers cared enough to ask me about homelessness and helped me through the process.”
Also, Addis’ girlfriend was pregnant. “That was another factor: try to do something else with my life.” His son is 9 years old now, and when Addis isn’t selling papers, he makes a point of spending time with him. “I’m trying to be an example.”
This is how he explains it:
“My mother had three girls and three boys. My father never was around. I can’t cry because my mother stayed busy working and my father wasn’t there, and I got in the wrong things and didn’t go to school like I was supposed to. I don’t look at these things as regretful, but survival.
“I want to be a better person. When I was drugging, ... when I’d be panhandling, [people] would do something crazy to me, and I would retaliate and they would call the police. When I’d go to jail, they’d give me a plea deal. All I cared about was getting another hit and being free. So, ‘OK, I did it!’”
“I didn’t like White people, coming out of Georgia. White guys attacked my grandfather and kicked his eyes out. But now I have White people that I would trust more than I would trust my own family — my customers, the love and peace and understanding that these people have shown.
“There’s a lot of hatred out there. People give me mean faces. They’ll say things like ‘get another job.’ I take that as something I could grow on. I want to do more than treat people the way I want to be treated. I want to treat people the way God wanted me to treat them. I tell them, ‘If you don’t want to smile, I’ll smile for you. I got your back.’
“They might still be mad, but light always overrules darkness. If I’ve got this badge on, then I’ve got that light shining. The people that say things to me, I pray for them. If I focus on their negativity, I wouldn’t never get nothing done on a positive level. So I don’t care where I see negative. You can see light in me.”
Addis is one of 300 active vendors selling Real Change. Each week a different vendor is featured. View previous vendor profiles.
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full November 8 issue which is dedicated to analyzing homeless encampment sweeps.