When Susan McRoy started working for Real Change, she decided it would be good to stay in one place as long as possible. Sixteen years later, she has done just that, living in a little cabin in the Cascade Mountain range that she repaired herself and calls home.
“I have a worldy background. I lived in seven different states by the time I was 18,” McRoy said. “I just wanted to refurbish something into a home. … The cabin was finished seven years after I started working for Real Change.”
McRoy is originally from Chicago and explained that a hiking trip in her youth to the Three Sisters in Oregon was the deciding factor tipping the scales for her to choose the Pacific Northwest over other places like San Francisco. “I took the train back to the Midwest, and I thought ‘OK, I got the Northwest out of my system or climbing a mountain out of my system,’ but I thought, ‘No, I still want to be in the Pacific Northwest.’”
McRoy arrived in Seattle when she was 21 years old, and then earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Evergreen State College and studied environmental studies and fiber arts. Another unique skill she’s picked up along the way is weaving handmade blankets she sells to merchants in the area.
McRoy loves living out in the woods, and she’s organized herself over 16 years to know exactly how many newspapers she needs to buy and sell each week to cover her bills.
McRoy knows what it’s like to be houseless. In 2001, McRoy’s cabin fell into disarray, and she needed to stay at a shelter until she could afford to make all the necessary fixes to live back at home.
“I experienced poverty once, and I registered at a women’s shelter, and at that time, I was shocked at how different the experience of being homeless was in the United States compared to what I had been taught in middle school and high school,” McRoy said. “I thought that women’s shelters had at least bunk beds, and I also thought that there were services to the community as far as getting resources, but my experience was that the whole process was just waiting for a mattress on the floor at 10 p.m. and then the shelter would close at 6 a.m.”
McRoy also struggled with rigid shower times that started at 8 a.m., making it difficult to keep a schedule and to look presentable for employers. “I washed my clothes and I showered almost every day, but by the time I was finished with that, it was 11 o’clock.”
Faced with these challenges, McRoy knew she needed a job with flexible hours. Real Change allowed her to sell for a few hours and register for the shelter by 5 p.m. to reserve a bed at 10 p.m.
McRoy has since regained her stability and she uses that time she stayed in a shelter as a talking point to educate the public on what unhoused people face. “My mom helped me acquire the cabin next door. So now we have two cabins and she was living in one for eight years. I’m still living in the cabin next door,” McRoy said.
McRoy makes the commute into the city on the days she sells her newspapers. What she wants people to understand is that Real Change made her feel employable at a stressful moment in her life and it also gave her something she could put on her resume.
“I think it’s really important for people to realize that the more you’re out of a job, the harder it is to get back into the economy. The more you’re out of the economy, the more jaded you feel, and the more ostracized you feel, too, and you don’t feel a part of the community.”
It made all the difference to McRoy to know she had a support system and people rooting for her while she was getting back on her feet.
After what she experienced, McRoy wants to do something in her community that fights poverty and homelessness, and so she has stayed with Real Change. She believes there are no better people to educate the community on homelessness than people who have lived through it.
“All vendors have experienced poverty in some fashion,” she said. “Real Change is not too left or too right; we’re just trying to get the word out to fight poverty.”
You can find McRoy posting up at Central Co-Op at 1600 East Madison Street in Seattle. Or you can Venmo McRoy; her badge number is 6713.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Aug. 4-10, 2021 issue.