Dawn Comiskey learned early in life what it means to be independent. She was an only child who grew up in a town in Northern California. She grew up quickly. She had to. “You have to shoulder all your parents’ hopes and dreams” she said, “You’re it. I was supposed to be good at everything. I still feel I need to make sure everything’s always done properly.”
Her sense of responsibility was what pushed her to pursue a degree in Health Science at California State University, East Bay, formerly known as Cal State Hayward. Her degree helped get her foot in the door in her field, and was the beginning of a successful career caring for others.
She worked in various doctors’ offices helping to create health plans for patients; she also spent some time working for United Behavioral Health. “I have a lot of empathy,” said Comiskey. “I always want to take care of people.” Compassion, combined with work experience, prepared her for working in hospice care. She worked 12-hour shifts caring for her aunt and spent five years caring for her bedridden father. Once her father passed away, her mother asked her to move to Seattle to help care for her grandmother. She cared for her grandmother. Then, eventually, her mother. Both have since passed.
After all the time she spent caring for loved ones, Dawn suddenly found herself alone and with no way of supporting herself.
That’s when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. “I just couldn’t do an eight-hour day anymore,” Comiskey said. “I could do bits and pieces, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Being a Real Change vendor is such a great fit for Dawn; she can work in two-hour intervals and choose her own hours. “I enjoy it,” she said with a smile. “And I’ve got a knack for it.” While the flexibility is great, her favorite part of selling Real Change is the meaningful connections she makes with customers. “People will come up to me and ask what my situation is,” Comiskey said. “They actually want to help and ... they care.”
She hopes when people ask her about homelessness that “they’re not just seeing it as one problem, with one solution. There’s a multitude of issues.”
“I’m just like your kid or your sister or your mom. There’s nothing different from me, other than I have an illness that sprung up and made it so I couldn’t work the way I’d always worked,” Comiskey said.
She wants readers to remember this as they interact with people experiencing homelessness. “Think about that the next time you make a judgment call,” she said. “Have a heart. Think about that before you walk past someone without acknowledging them, before you try and avoid them so you don’t have to deal with the guilt of saying no.”
She pauses thoughtfully. “You know, you’d be surprised with what you get if you reach out a little bit.”
Comiskey sells at the post office in Lake City at 127th, and at the Metropolitan Market off 40th Ave NE in Seattle.
Dawn is one of 300 active vendors selling Real Change. Each week a different vendor is featured. View previous vendor profiles.
Read the full May 15 - 21 issue.
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