Travis Towne was a devoted Real Change customer. “I was doing construction downtown. I bought a paper the whole time I was on the job.”
He grew up near Covington in south King County, “before it was a town.” His neighborhood was the “drive-up drugstore — kids from 13 to 18 selling pot. It put me into that lifestyle. Six times in prison.”
Travis met his wife Stacie while imprisoned. “We’d been writing each other on Facebook.
“She changed my life,” he said. Stacie and Travis were living in eastern Washington when “me and my wife got homeless. The kids ended up going to their dad’s.” Travis still keeps up a close friendship with one of his stepsons.
Travis and Stacie were camping in a trailer when their car broke down, so they moved the trailer to the town where she was working. “I was stuck in the middle of nowhere in this hot trailer. I just looked at her and said, ‘something’s pushing us to the other side, where I’m from.’”
“She said, ‘You’re right — let’s go.’” Travis went to Seattle and first ended up in a SHARE (a Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) shelter. “We had a couple plans [to live together], and I had friends over here. But life is life. People move on, and they can’t take you in. I’ve done the same thing: ‘You say you’re doing good, but I know you from the past.’ We were living in a PT Cruiser for the first 10 months.”
They both started selling Real Change. Then they found jobs and searched for long-term stays among hotels on SR-99. “Every one of them wanted 500 bucks a week!”
They found a cheaper hotel in Fife — $360 a week — and then, finally, got subsidized housing in downtown Seattle.
Living downtown, it was easy for Travis to go back to selling Real Change “pretty much ever since. Last end of September, I started working at Dominoes. In January, they fired me because somebody stole the bike while I was on delivery at Swedish Hospital!”
He’d also had three bike accidents on that job, including being hit by a car. “I got PTSD really bad from child abuse, and it was the worst thing ever for my PTSD, but I thought I was ready.”
Selling Real Change allows him to take days off. “There’s days when it’s better for me not to go out of the house.” Selling the paper can be stressful, especially if there are panhandlers at his post.
At the same time, he sees the customer service experience as part of improving his résumé.
“I keep trying to go back to work — I’m born and raised in the 1970s. We’re men. We’re told to get up and go to work, put a Band-Aid on it [if we have a problem].
“It took me a while to realize I was working [for Real Change].” He’s made a carrier and display box for his papers to remind himself.
“You should see me flip my papers around.”
Read the full October 30 - November 5 issue.
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