Real Change vendor David Dunn, who began selling the paper in 2008, passed away late last month. He was a few weeks shy of his 65th birthday.
Anyone who knew him will tell you that Dunn was an extremely quiet man. This journalist found that out the hard way, trying to interview him for a vendor profile in 2022. However, they’ll also tell you that, when he did talk, he was incredibly kind, caring and funny.
“He was really quiet, and anytime he came into the office you could tell he wanted to get in, buy some papers and get out,” said Bridget Mountain, who worked in Real Change’s Vendor Center. “But once you asked him how he was doing, he would light up like a Christmas tree. He was so excited to chat with you and talk about how life was going.”
Dunn was a regular fixture in the vendor center on Wednesdays. He never failed to show up to help unload the latest issue of the paper from the delivery van. His long arms and broad, easy smile made him a well-loved member of the human chain that hauls papers from the alley off Main Street up into Real Change’s back office.
Nick Lopez, a longtime vendor and Real Change’s newest vendor program associate, said Dunn was a good friend to everyone. They were living on the street at the same time, Lopez said, and ran into each other frequently. Though he wasn’t Lopez’ referring vendor, Dunn was the first person who told him about Real Change, Lopez said, and looked out for him in other ways, too. He once helped him quite literally find shelter in a storm.
“It was a really rainy night. I didn’t know where to go,” Lopez recalled. “And he actually had a spot that was safe for a night, at least.”
Lopez identified with Dunn a lot. They’d both experienced heart issues. Dunn was diagnosed with a heart murmur in 2018, and Lopez had gone through heart surgery at 23. Beyond that, their shared experience of homelessness, and their shared approach to dealing with it, brought them closer.
“I always respected him that way, like a brother in arms, kind of,” Lopez said, “because he kind of dealt with the world in a similar way.”
The way in question? A relentless, clear-eyed positivity.
“He was a really good guy, always there to help people and always had a really good, positive attitude,” Lopez said.
However, Dunn was also able to be a bit cynical and a bit world-weary, something that deepened their shared sense of humor, Lopez said. But never self-pitying.
“I have to say he had a stoicism. He was very stoic. He dealt with a lot and he had his own physical issues and never complained about them, never let them stop him.”
One thing Dunn was very proud of was his post at the Uptown Espresso on Delridge Way SW, which he manned from 6:30 a.m. sharp every morning except Wednesdays, when he went to pick up the paper.
There his earnest, kind demeanor earned him plenty of friends, chief among them Michaela LoveLady, a barista. Choking back tears, she remembered sharing her smoke breaks with him over the years. They both smoked Camel 99’s and, she said, “Whenever he asked for one, I would give him two.”
Her own father fell on hard times during the 2008 recession, she said, and sold Real Change to get by, so she had an instant affinity with Dunn. Having experienced homelessness herself only added to that.
Remembering little tidbits about Dunn, she mentioned that he really loved the movie “The 13th Warrior.” She’d planned to buy it for him on VHS but hadn’t had the money, prompting fresh tears. He was a movie buff in general, she added, mostly for horror flicks.
He also had a knack for telling dirty jokes, she remembered, something he was known for around the office as well. In an email announcing his passing, Field Organizer Caroline St. Clair wrote that, “He was a friend to many, brought amazing vendors into our community, and had the best/worst jokes that challenged even Dr. Wes’ in inappropriateness for a workplace.”
If you know Dr. Wes, that’s no small accomplishment.
What does LoveLady most want people to remember about Dunn? The warmth and kindness he brought into the world, yes, but also that he didn’t have to die. Real Change does not know Dunn’s cause of death but, as noted in a 2019 vendor profile of Dunn that Mountain wrote, his struggles with medical insurance meant that he didn’t always have access to medication for his heart murmur. LoveLady said he also had a shoulder injury, from his many years in the construction industry, that caused him ongoing pain.
What she wants people to take away from his passing, she said, is that we need Medicare for all:
“I believe he would still be here if he had better access to health care.”
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Mar. 8-14, 2023 issue.