Sabina is beaming. It’s easy to tell that her broad, cheerful smile is hiding behind her mask. I ask her how she’s doing, and she doesn’t hesitate: “Great!”
Today, Sabina’s wearing a flowing, long, floral dress and she carries her chair and papers in a rolling suitcase. “I can fit everything I need in here!” she said. “It’s so much easier to carry.”
Real Change vendors have been back selling the newspaper for three weeks now, and it’s a huge relief to Sabina. Real Change is her only source of income, and she was missing her friends and customers and felt cooped up at home.
Sabina sells near the PCC in Fremont and appreciates the neighborhood for the people and parks. When she’s not working, she spends time outside. “I love the fresh air. It helps me mentally to be outside. To see people — it’s peace of mind. It helps with anxiety.” Fremont has no shortage of green spaces. “I love the canal; it’s one of my favorite places to go to.” Around the corner from her selling location is Alberona’s, her go-to spot for her favorite food: pizza.
She’s glad to be back on her corner, and knows it’s been a difficult time for many. “If you need someone to talk to, come find me. I’m always on this corner. I’m ready to listen.”
Sabina takes the pandemic very seriously and makes sure to be cautious. “Your first day back at work can be scary. My first day, I had really bad anxiety. I was really scared about getting COVID. But no, I’m being safe. I have my mask on.”
Slowly, her anxiety started to fade. “I got to see a lot of my old customers. That made it more comfortable. I saw people I knew; people started buying papers; I felt better seeing familiar faces.”
On the hot days, wearing a mask can get uncomfortable, Sabina said, laughing. “Luckily I have a big, gigantic fan right where I sell.”
Getting through Phase 1 of the quarantine was lonely. And planning for an uncertain financial future — when she’d only been in housing for 6 months — felt intimidating. A few weeks back, Sabina received her stimulus check of $1,200. “That was really unexpected, and that was pretty cool,” she shared.
“Thank God for the Venmo support and Rex [Holbein of Facing Homelessness], who has helped me out.” Her community has come through for her during the pandemic. Like Eric, a friend who she met selling papers in Fremont. Sabina kept running into him at Wednesday night dinners, and he and his sister started dropping off groceries for her every two weeks. “It’s awesome,” she said, “really nice.”
Sabina is proud of where she is today. “I’ve been sober for 1 year and 6 months now, been in housing since December 26th, 2019. When they called me and told me I got the place, I was like, ‘REALLY?’ I started crying.” Sabina lived in Tent City 3 in Skyway for about a year before that.
Sabina knows it is not easy to overcome addiction. She wants to share a message with people who may be still struggling with substance abuse and seeking stability: “A lot of people have addictions that they are afraid to deal with. You can do it. I was really bad on drugs before, but I made it. You can, too.”
For many, the pandemic has revealed hard truths about inequity in Seattle. For Sabina, it just cemented what she already knew about access to housing, hygiene and support. Sabina believes Seattle can do better. She was pleased to see people getting into housing and hotels quicker during the pandemic and hopes we can go further to support our unhoused neighbors.
“Seattle needs to help the homeless get inside. Provide them with better counselors. People who actually care,” she said. “We need more housing for people. We need shelters that are accepting. More housing. More REAL help for mental health needs.”
Sabina is working with a new counselor now: Tash, who has been very supportive. “He is super amazing and actually listens,” she said. “I never had a counselor who gave a fuck. He is cool.”
Last year, Sabina was dealing with seizures, brought on by medication she was taking for another condition. It was a scary time. Looking back on that experience, Sabina sees a systematic problem with access to health care. “We need more people out there to help. We can’t leave people on the street to fend for themselves.”
Sabina has a big heart and a deep, personal understanding of issues that Seattle has largely failed to adequately address. Her knowledge and compassion have made her a natural leader, and it’s no surprise that she was the 2018 Vendor of the Year, voted on by her peers to win the award.
As she packs her roller suitcase to go to her selling location in Fremont, I ask if she’s feeling OK about precautions in the pandemic today. “I pray and pray to God to keep me safe. I was scared that everyone would get COVID. As long as I keep my hands clean and my mask on, I’ll feel safe.”
We could all take a page out of Sabina’s book. Keep your hands clean, keep your mask on and look out for your neighbors.
Read more in the July 22-28, 2020 issue.