Selling Real Change papers on the street is hard work.
There’s the trick of catching people’s eye and interest as they run by on their way to work, home, the library or billiards hall. Trying to entice them to pay $2 for a product they sometimes assume is charity rather than journalism. Dealing with the eye-shifting, headphone-donning avoidance that goes with the gig.
And then there’s the standing, which is hard for just about anyone to do for too long, but particularly impacts vendors who have a disability or other kind of physical ailment. Unfortunately, Seattle’s strict prohibitions against reclining in public places, called “sit/lie” ordinances, make it hard for people who can’t stand for very long to sell Real Change.
“It’s been a persistent problem for vendors for years, and a persistent problem for the homeless in general,” said Neal Lampi, vendor program associate at Real Change.
Lampi spends time in the office and in the field, smoothing the path for vendors and helping address their concerns while selling the paper. He knew the sit/lie ordinance was a problem for people, but a conversation with Matt Hill, a Real Change vendor and member of the Editorial Committee, pushed him into action.
“He has these puppy dog eyes,” Lampi said.
Hill is one of many vendors who has difficulty standing for long periods of time, which means he can sell for 15- to 30-minute stretches when he doesn’t have support. He recently fell, damaging both his shoulder and his walker, which he uses to get around and while vending, making it even more difficult to do his job.
“If I can’t sit and sell the paper, then I can’t make a living,” Hill said. “I don’t make much to begin with anyways, but I would make even less. It wouldn’t be worth going out at all.”
So Lampi began researching what, if anything, could be done to alleviate the burden on vendors. After a few false starts at different city departments, Lampi reached the Seattle Department of Transportation and got guidance.
As long as vendors do not block a public right of way and qualify as disabled, they can bring a chair or other object out with them, Lampi was informed. They need a special permit only if they bring tables or other “vending structures,” according to the regulation.
They do not need a permit to sell the paper, unlike other wares, because their right to do so is protected under the First Amendment.
To satisfy the ordinance, Real Change vendors must provide proof of a disability, generally a doctor’s note or other form of verification to the Vendor Program. Then, Real Change prints a special badge with that familiar blue-and-white disabled emblem on it, to show to law enforcement or ambassadors from the Metropolitan Improvement District that vendors have the right to bring a chair with them.
It’s good news for Hill, who plans on seeing his doctor quickly, to get his shoulder checked out and the note that he needs.
“For someone like me who has a lot of problems standing on their feet for a long time, it’s something that gives you great relief,” Hill said.