A grinning Glenn Coles strolled into the Real Change Vendor Center Wednesday, July 7, leaned close to a Real Change advocacy team member, and shared the news: He'd been approved for housing.
"I just got my voucher today from the Veteran’s Administration. I could take it anywhere in the United States of America!" Coles said.
Coles has been a Real Change vendor since 2017, when he left his hometown of Chicago and his family — a decision he still struggles with. “My definition of manhood is that there is not a man that would leave his kids, and I did that,” he said. While Coles wanted to be close to his loved ones, he recognized that environment is crucial; in order to protect his sobriety, a different city was necessary.
He has remained connected long distance with his adult children and grandchildren, and Cole took with him the life lessons from his family. "My dad taught me a lot of things, but the one thing that stood out more than anything else was work ethic," he said. "I fell through my grandmother's ceiling when I was 17 years old, and my dad made me fix it."
Coles learned how to fix all kinds of things around the house, from the back porch to the septic tank. These experiences pushed him to open his own construction company and home improvement business, with 15 employees. “When I ran my business, the greatest part of it wasn't being in control. I didn’t need any of that; I was putting food on people's tables,” he said.
Coles said he became particularly good at installing drywall and painting walls. "Rebecca would never know, because she never let me paint the Real Change bathroom," Coles joked about the Real Change vendor program director, Rebecca Marriott.
To Coles, Real Change gave him his agency back and the power to say that he’s worth something. "I had to create a personality, which was in there, but it was drowning, and that personality was able to make connections. Once I made connections, I had no limitations," Coles said. "Only the ones I put on myself. That's agency." After dealing with a 32-year marriage ending and confronting his alcohol abuse, Coles needed to be reminded that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
“I literally found out that everybody on the planet is confused to one degree or another. Nobody's got all the answers, you know, but together we can collectively not only survive but prosper,” Coles explained.
While selling newspapers, Coles said people from all walks of life come across his path, and he’s learned how to connect with uptight businessmen to individuals struggling with their mental health or drug abuse.
Coles is going back to school for social work and is an internship short of his psychiatric rehabilitation certification in Chicago. “I went back to school at 50 years old,” he said. He’s hopeful he can finish at Seattle Central College and get his degree; he’s currently signed up for a peer support specialists class.
Although Cole's housing voucher can be used anywhere in the United States, he might stick around the rainy city a little longer. "I love Seattle, and it's raining money in this city, literally almost. And I can prosper here," Coles said.
Connecting Real Change vendors to housing
Real Change Case Manager Ainsley Meyer meets with vendors like Coles to determine what resources are available to them, including possible housing options. Meyer will coordinate paperwork, such as tracking down birth certificates and finding out if someone is already on a waitlist for housing. There are many steps to determine eligibility status for housing resources.
Meyer connects vendors with different public and private housing organizations. One option is through King County, which uses a prioritization rating system for the limited housing stock called Coordinated Entry for All. This assessment tool determines someone’s risk of death if they were to remain without housing. Coordinated Entry does not create new units, but is a system implemented to ensure equitable access to limited resources.
Meyer walks with a vendor on that journey, accompanying them to a housing place to put in an application or helping them to fill out applications online. Her job is not only to break down the barriers separating people from housing and medical services but also to provide continual support after those needs have been met.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the July 21-27, 2021 issue.