Art Ermeloff is a giver. Whether it’s his time, his skills, or simply his companionship, he has always been there for the people in his life.
He was born in Hydaburg, a town in the southern part of the Alaskan panhandle. He was the second of eight children. His parents are Alaskan Natives; his mother a member of the Haida tribe, for which Hydaburg got its name, and his father was an Aleut. While his father was in Vietnam, his parents separated. “My dad came back, and he brought all of us kids down to San Diego to live with him,” Ermeloff explains.
He lived there until 1982, when he decided to move back to the Northwest so he could be of assistance to his mother. Although he enjoys Seattle, he does miss San Diego, and wouldn’t mind taking a trip back. “The furthest I made it back to was San Francisco, but I came back because my mom needed some more help.”
Ermeloff has sold a lot of newspapers. He’s been a Real Change vendor for the past five years, plus an additional three years of selling street newspapers in Portland. He currently sells in Lake City. “I have regular customers that rely on me,” Ermeloff says as he talks about a customer who goes out of her way to see him — even if she’s already bought the current issue. Ermeloff’s two favorite things about working at Real Change are the people he meets and the ability to supplement his meager SSI income.
In 2002, he broke his leg and could no longer work. The disability, combined with the fact that Ermeloff, as he puts it, “didn’t want to be inside,” led to his experiencing homelessness. Despite this downward trend, he was still there for the people whom he cared about. His good friend Ray is a perfect example. When Ermeloff heard that Ray was being harassed, he immediately decided to stay with his friend to ensure his safety. Now Ray is on his feet, and both of them are paying their friendship forward: Art and Ray make routine trips to God’s Little Acre, a nonprofit day program in Lake City: “We’ll pool our money together, go down to the Grocery Outlet, then go back and feed the masses.”
Ermeloff thanks his mother for his generous nature. “She would always tell me, ‘Son, if you be nice to people and help people, good things will happen for you.’ So that’s what I do.”
Another passion of his is beading. A friend put him onto the idea of it while they were at an alcohol treatment center together. He’s has been doing it ever since. He makes earrings, necklaces, wristbands and custom pieces. Rather than selling them, Ermeloff said, “Mostly, I just give them to family.” His craft has received enough attention that he is currently going through the preliminary phases of starting a beading class that he would lead at the Lake City Community Center. His enthusiasm about it is hard to contain, “That’s gonna be awesome, to be able to help people produce their own work.”
Whatever he’s doing, Ermeloff puts others first, and he knows that generous heart will carry him a long way.
Art sells at the Bartell in Lake City. He's one of 300 active vendors selling Real Change. Each week a different vendor is featured. View previous vendor profiles.
Read the full Dec. 19 - Dec. 25 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.