Canada Jones grew up in St. Louis, Missouri — “Home of the Big MO!” he said with a burst of infectious laughter. His parents named him David Jones, but he’s called himself Canada ever since he figured out he was probably conceived there.
He came out to Seattle in the 1980s, encouraged by his brother, who was working at the Millionair Club Charity, a temp agency and service provider now known as Uplift Northwest. Jones worked at the Yesler Hotel, the Smith Tower and even the Kingdome just before it was demolished in 2000.
He moved to San Francisco and sold the Bay area’s street newspaper, Street Sheet, for several years. Among his customers were three mayors of San Francisco, including Gavin Newsom, who’s now governor of California.
Jones came back to Seattle in 2018, looking for members of his family. He’d lost touch with them and didn’t know exactly where they were. A friend dropped him off in Pioneer Square, near the Real Change office.
“I saw a woman standing on the corner there. She was wearing a yellow safety vest, like the one I’m wearing now. I went up and talked to her, asked her where I could find work and a place to stay. She took my hand — she actually took my hand. It was vendor Lisa Sawyer. She led me across the street to the Real Change office. And that’s when I started selling Real Change.”
He started at a very good time. In August 2018, at what was then Safeco Field, Pearl Jam gave two back-to-back concerts called the “Home Shows” to raise money to help homeless people. Real Change vendors sold at that concert, and Jones was one of them.
“I did so well that I moved from the shelter I was in to the OK Hotel,” he said. “Been there ever since. Rent is high, and my income is low.
“Real Change keeps me from going off the edge, keeps me from getting upset over something I can’t do anything about — high rent.”
Jones found his family in Seattle. He has a son, two daughters and seven grandchildren. After four years as a vendor, he said, “Real Change is my second family.”
He’s 65 now, a senior citizen. He says right now he needs a part-time job — one that would help him earn a couple more quarters of social security. It would have to be light work, but he gets around well in his rollator, a type of walker, and he talks easily to people he doesn’t know.
“Definitely a people person,” he says. Real Change has been a help with his physical condition, too. “I’m sick, but not sickly, because of their support.”
Jones said the other thing he likes about Real Change is “the camaraderie. I’m glad to be part of their world.
Canada Jones sells Real Change at the corner of Second Avenue and Blanchard Street. His badge for Venmo payments is 14282. Find him on our vendor map.
Before you go! Real Change exists to provide opportunity and a voice to people experiencing homelessness and poverty while taking action for economic, racial and social justice.
Our vendors sell our weekly newspaper all over Seattle and the surrounding area, and they rely on the support of our readers to make an income.
Enjoyed the article? Venmo a vendor $2, the cost of a paper, to support their work!
Susan Storer Clark is a contributor and writing coach for Real Change. A former broadcast journalist, she is currently at work on her second novel.
Read more of the May 24-30, 2023 issue.