Lisa Sawyer is busy. She somehow manages to juggle selling hundreds of papers a month, with being President of Real Change’s Vendor Advisory Board, a position she’s held for three consecutive years. On top of that, Sawyer is a member of the Resident Action Project (RAP), a statewide network of housing advocates. She has no plans to slow down.
For Sawyer, working to fix society’s issues is nothing new. “I used to be involved in a lot of movements when I was younger,” she said.
She became homeless after a roommate accidentally set their house on fire with a candle. That was seven years ago, and, despite the ordeal of homelessness, Sawyer still takes the time to assist her community in any way she can. Whether it’s as simple as waking up early to clean the area around the tent that she and her boyfriend share, or as big as going to Olympia to speak before state representatives, Sawyer is willing to go the extra mile.
Sawyer was born and raised in Seattle, graduating from Cleveland High School in 2005. After graduation, she continued in school and studied massage therapy. After the fire, though, Sawyer had to put a hold on her career in order to figure out a way to deal with day-to-day living expenses. She panhandled until she was approached by a Real Change vendor who invited her down to the office. That was five years ago. She has been with Real Change ever since.
Sawyer is currently trying to land an apartment through a low-income housing program that brings in a third party to be an intermediary between landlords and tenants. She believes the program will help combat income-based housing discrimination. Until housing comes through for her, Sawyer is living in a tent. She does prefer this to some of the less hospitable places she has slept, such as shelters, tent cities and a spot on the downtown waterfront, but it is not going to work forever.
Growing up, Sawyer considered herself to be a quiet kid who would never speak in front of groups without a teacher’s instruction. Today, however, Sawyer has numerous speaking engagements under her belt. This is due in part to her affiliation with RAP. According to Sawyer, the group is made up of people facing housing instability and homelessness. She said, “We tell our stories to legislators, representatives and senators in order to get bills changed.” Her most recent speech was given in Olympia in favor of increasing and solidifying the sunset clause in HB1570, a bill that provides homeless housing and assistance.
Sawyer knows that Seattle is an expensive area to live, but she has no plans to leave. “I grew up here,” she said. “This is my home.” Despite being from here, Lisa still experiences isolation. “Most of my friends don’t even know that I’m on the streets, because people will disown you or think less of you when they find out that you’re homeless, because people consider homeless to mean drug addict, and I’m sure not that.”
When asked what advice she has for aspiring vendors, Sawyer said, “Real Change is a good community, and once you get the hang of it, it becomes a family. But you have to have the patience.”
You can find Sawyer selling her Real Change newspapers on Fourth and Union in downtown Seattle. Don’t be afraid to stop by and say hello.
Lisa is one of 300 active vendors selling Real Change. Each week a different vendor is featured. View previous vendor profiles.
Read the full Jan. 9 - 15 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