Ready when you aah," says John Bayly in the New York-est accent I've ever heard. Miraculously, he's managed to fold all six-foot-three of himself into a small plastic chair, and will now give the easiest, most eloquently phrased interview I've ever had. Aside from a few questions of clarification, I'll let Bayly do the talking.
The self-described "world's greatest Yankees fan," Bayly was born and raised in Queens Borough, where he led a "normal" life for three decades. But as Bayly can attest, a life can crumble under the weight of memory. When Bayly -- troubled by an abusive childhood -- sought help, a doctor informed him that he exhibited symptoms of a slew of mental illnesses, among them PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Is there any way to fully explain what happened next?
"I had a job handing out flyers," remembers Bayly of his most recent bout of homelessness, "I quit for no apparent reason." Around the same time, Bayly's mental illness prevented him from returning to his apartment building; he stayed on and off the streets of New York for the next three years.
Says Bayly of his homelessness, "People take for granted that you're a drug addict or alcoholic.... A lot of people are homeless because they go off [medication]. Alcohol and drugs had nothing to do with it in my case."
But the stigma Bayly has faced gives him a sense of purpose -- he's become a self-appointed advocate on issues facing the homeless. Since he came to Seattle in September, Bayly's played a crucial role in advocacy efforts, in his spare time creating and maintaining a Real Change MySpace page.
He's also acquired something of a fan club.
"John is great," said one of his customers via e-mail. "He's out there, rain or snow." (It's telling that applause flitted through the office when Bayly announced he'd found housing last month.)
"Real Change is a godsend," he says--and the feeling is mutual.