George Sidwell remembers the day that his life changed forever.
“I was on the job, up on a roof. My vision was kind of spotty, and then my whole left side just went numb.
“I fell to the ground and thought I was going to die. The scariest part was thinking about dying alone.”
George’s devastating stroke took away his work, his financial security and his illusions about homelessness.
“I had always worked hard. I was used to being the giver, not the receiver. I was raised with the attitude that people are homeless because they want to be. I learned that wasn’t true.”
When George’s fall took away the life he’d known, the community he found through Real Change was there to help. When you give to our Winter Fund Drive, people such as George find opportunity, hope and the will to go on.
After the accident, whatever safety net George had soon unraveled. After six weeks of relearning to walk, the medical bills wiped him out. His insurance was canceled. While George was disabled and deep in debt, the worst was still to come.
Less than two months after the accident, his home burned to the ground. George lost everything. That’s when he moved into a tent in Nickelsville. “I was pretty broken,” George remembers.
“My spirit was gone.” This was during the great recession, and George found others like himself. “There were people who had made good money, lost their jobs and ran out of savings.
“There were people who came to help family, and thought they’d be able to find a job. And there were people with medical conditions, like me.” But George remained resilient; he found a way back on his feet.
“A friend told me about Real Change,” he recalls. “It sounded like something that could help me keep the dignity I had left. I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. You think I could make 15 or 20 bucks a day to cover my basic daily needs?’ He laughed a little and said, ‘Oh, you know, you make what you wanna make. You oughta give it a try.’”
“My first day out there, I bought 20 papers and sold out within an hour and a half. That kind of started me onto the track to where I am now.”
Each year, Real Change readers help more than 700 homeless and very low-income vendors earn the money they need. Your gift today builds the caring community that makes our work possible.
Each year, Real Change readers help more than 700 homeless and very low-income vendors earn the money they need.
When George became a Real Change vendor, he found a lot more than a job. He found a community, a voice and a path toward healing.
He became a vendor activist, and a popular member of our Homeless Speakers Bureau. He joined Real Change’s Vendor Advisory Board, and was elected 2018 Vendor of the Year by his peers.
All of this took courage. George left his comfort zone in order to grow time and again.
“It was really scary telling my story at first. Sometimes it really gets emotional. It’s like I’m almost there again.” George hopes that others can learn from his experience.
“I really believe that a lot of people judge and put homeless people into a box just because they’re not there at this point in time. There are people really out there that don’t want to be, but they are. The negative attitude makes them feel worthless. It makes them feel like they are not a part of society — separated — like they have some kind of disease.
"There are people really out there that don’t want to be, but they are. The negative attitude makes them feel worthless. It makes them feel like they are not a part of society — separated — like they have some kind of disease."
“It eats at their hope. After a while, they start giving up because everyone’s saying all these things and nothing is working for them yet, so why even try?”
Real Change is reader-funded journalism, with more than 60 percent of our budget coming from grassroots supporters like you. Your gift of any amount tells our vendors that a whole community supports their success.
Between now and Dec. 31 at midnight, we’re working to raise $170,000 to build a foundation for our programs in 2019.
2019 will be Real Change’s 25th anniversary of empowering low-income and homeless people. When you make your gift during this Winter Fund Drive, you’re investing in the next 25 years of success for our vendors.
When you give $250 or more during this drive, you’ll receive a Real Change Treating People Like People T-shirt and a copy of Nick Licata’s book “Becoming a Citizen Activist” while supplies last. Donate today.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Read the full Dec. 12 - Dec. 18 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.