My name is Lisa Sawyer. I have been homeless for about six years now. When I was younger I was very active. I used to go to a local Boys and Girls Club over in Rainier Vista. I was a part of an arts program through a local museum. I was in a drill team called the Miss Dangerettes. I worked as a day camp counselor at the Boys and Girls Club and at Brighton Elementary. I even graduated from Cleveland High School. Hello, class of 2005.
After high school, I moved to South Park. While I was living in South Park I started a new relationship with a great guy. Our place burned down. One of our housemates had fallen asleep with a candle lit around cleaning bottles with unscrewed lids. When she was asleep, she pulled a blanket away from her and knocked the candle over and started a house fire. I wasn’t there at the time that it happened. I found out when I came home that night and the Red Cross told me that everyone who lived there had to go to a hotel.
When I was younger I thought, “I will never be homeless.” I thought homeless people were no-good, low-life drug addicts. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of ways that a person can become homeless. People can be one paycheck away from homelessness. They could have a felony, an eviction or be low-income and not be able to afford rent. Or an accident could happen. This happened to me.
When the Red Cross told me that I was going to the hotel, I was hoping that I wasn’t going into homelessness. But we did, my boyfriend and I. I broke down crying when we were in the hotel. The Red Cross told us if we find a place within the first 30 days, they would pay the move-in costs. We didn’t find one in time. The Red Cross paid for one more week at the hotel, then hello homelessness.
When I was younger I thought, “I will never be homeless.”
I didn’t tell my friends and family that I was homeless because of what they would say when they found out. Some of them caught on that I was. I didn’t like to admit it because whoever thought that a friend or a loved one would be homeless. Some of my family members don’t keep in contact with me for that reason. Some of my friends that I grew up with ended up not being true friends. It is amazing how people think of you all different and assume something that might or might not be true.
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I was panhandling before I found Real Change. I wasn’t making enough to get through the day. I had three vendors come up to me and talk to me about Real Change.
I started Real Change on Nov. 8, 2013. I was quiet when I started because when you are homeless you start losing bits of yourself. At first, I wasn’t as involved as I was when I was younger. After five months at Real Change, I started getting active again very slowly. I was a vendor representative, which means I help coordinate when vendors come to get new papers. Then I was a part of our Vendor Organizing Committee, which is part of the Advocacy program. In 2015, I was Real Change’s Vendor of the Year. I also did an internship that led to the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods program called PACE, the People’s Academy for Community Engagement where I got my Leadership Development Degree. Now I am the president of our Vendor Advisory Board. I’m also a Washington Low Income Housing Alliance Emerging Advocate Program graduate and mentor, as well as a Resident Action Project statewide committee member. My work involves creating housing policy in Washington state.
Despite all my hard work, things aren’t easy.
Despite all my hard work, things aren’t easy. My boyfriend and I got an apartment in November 2016. It took us over a year to find a landlord who would take couples. When I did get into a place, I had a 10-month lease. I got help through “diversion,” a program that only pays the move-in costs. The rent was too high. I almost got evicted three times. I was lucky to find help avoiding eviction, but had to leave the apartment. I had nowhere to go. Most of my homelessness, I was sleeping outside. Now I am in a female shelter with 50 other women. I’m on the waiting list for housing.
No matter how much work you do, and how much you’re involved, it still takes forever to get into housing when you’re homeless. It took five years of hard work to get into the last apartment. Sometimes having a job and references doesn’t go as far as people expect, especially when there is a long waiting list. Don’t assume a homeless person is a drug addict. You need to listen to their story first. Let a homeless person tell you their story, and you’ll totally change your idea of what homelessness is.
The Homeless Speakers Bureau is available to any organization, school or business. Host organizations pay a $125 honorarium to Real Change for two speakers. This payment covers $50 for each speaker, plus transportation and food for prep meetings. Speakers may be scheduled two or more weeks in advance of the event. For more information, email email@example.com or call 206-441-3247 x 212.
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