When Evie Lovett arrived in Seattle in 1998, she didn’t know what lay in wait.
Lovett came to the Emerald City on a whim — born in New York, she’d lived for a time in Savannah, Georgia, a town she described succinctly as “hot and racist.”
“It was too hot and too humid, and I wanted to have a kid, but I didn’t want to bring her up in a racist environment,” Lovett said. “All of her friends are like a rainbow.”
Lovett and her husband watched the Travel Channel, and she saw a program that featured Seattle. A week later, she called up her husband and said, “Do you want to move?”
“That was a Wednesday and we left on a Saturday,” Lovett said.
The family took the train to Seattle. Lovett got her first job at a café in Century Square and then a second position filing for intellectual property attorneys. Lovett worked 13 hours a day — eight at the café, and another four or five at the law firm — before locking down a full-time gig with the attorneys.
Then, Lovett and her husband had a baby boy they named after the legendary reggae musician Bob Marley. He had his own room that Lovett had decorated with classic Winnie the Pooh imagery on the walls. On the first night that he slept there, tragedy struck.
When the household got up the next morning, the infant was dead.
Lovett was devastated.
“All hell broke loose in my house after that,” she said.
She began drinking to cope with the pain, a habit that caused her to lose her job. When unemployment ran out, she relied on her savings. When she depleted those, she ended up outside. Her daughter went to live with her grandmother.
“I had got to a point, you start feeling helpless and hopeless,” Lovett said.
Lovett used to hang out with a Real Change vendor named Katmandu. She used to go with him to Target, where he sold the paper.
“He said, ‘Evie, what are you doing?’” she recalled. He told her to go to the office and attend orientation.
“I walked in and I felt so at home,” Lovett said. “I called him the other day and said, ‘Guess who’s female Vendor of the Year?’ and he said, ‘Holy shit!’”
Lovett has been selling Real Change for three years. She currently vends at her spot in Roosevelt neighborhood where she’s built up a loyal customer base.
“I’m glad Real Change exists,” Lovett said. “I think it empowers people, and it’s a nice way to make a living.”
Yemane Berhe is a quiet man, but do not let his demeanor fool you. Berhe is the busiest man you know. He is a Real Change vendor who works tirelessly at his multiple posts across the city of Seattle. He’s the sort who makes connections with people, holding conversations and getting to know those who buy the paper from him. He remembers names and details, forging connections with his customers as a true businessman does. When Berhe has to take some time off, his customers notice.
But often he has to take a break from vending, because it isn’t his only job.
Berhe works at an ice cream shop called Sweet Treats, catering and packaging cases of ice cream sandwiches. It’s a full-time job, on top of Real Change. From farmer’s markets to ice cream sandwiches to international travel, Berhe is always on the go.
Berhe is an Eritrean refugee with family both in his native land and in Washington, D.C., where he lived before he moved to Seattle in search of work. He came to the United States to escape from the war for Eritrean independence from Ethiopia, a conflict that raged for 30 years.
When Berhe was 21, he crossed the border into Sudan and opened a restaurant before coming to the United States more than seven years later. He didn’t speak English at the time, but managed to get by driving a cab in a city that was once infamous for the danger of such work.
He moved to Seattle for the promise of a job, but the opportunity fell through. He became homeless for six months, trying to get by in a new city that is not known for welcoming strangers. That’s when Berhe stumbled upon Real Change.
The paper offered him a chance to make some money on his own terms. He has sold in farmer’s markets, in front of the University District post office and in Pike Place Market. As he made buyers into regular customers, he forged relationships that led to his work with Sweet Treats.
Berhe uses his wages to care for his health — despite working for an ice cream shop, he can’t eat the product — and for his family. He’s one of 11 siblings, and a father.
“I help my sons in Washington [D.C.], my mom in Africa, then my younger brother,” Berhe told Real Change in 2016.
Six months after he arrived in Seattle, Berhe was able to secure housing with another man from Eritrea. He helped his new roommate do household chores like cooking and laundry, as the man was blind.
Berhe’s is the story of a person who has lived out the euphemistic American Dream. He has crossed oceans to establish a life here in Washington and Real Change is incredibly proud to count him as one of our family.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Read the full September 11 - 17 issue.
© 2019 Real Change. All rights reserved.| 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 and donate now to support independent, award-winning journalism.