The vendors you connect with, whether it be at the entrance of a grocery store or a busy corner of downtown, shared with Real Change their goals and hopes for our organization, the city and themselves.
Creating music with community
Outside of being a Real Change vendor, Nicholas Steele, badge #14684, is also a long-time musician who’s been playing a variety of string instruments for over 20 years. Steele went through multiple phases of focusing on fast-paced music with a distinctive bass sound but now he’s more interested in creating music that includes other people. That’s why this year, Steele’s main goal is to connect with as many people as possible in Seattle and build a community with those individuals through music.
“[I want] to help them understand what they hear in their head, maybe onto a track or just jamming,” Steele said. “You know, Seattle was known for being, in the ’90s, an epicenter for music, and I’m sure it’s still here but it’s buried. We’ve got to dig it up.”
Steele has started a band and holds music sessions at Recovery Café in SODO as a way to create a safe space for unhoused people in a city that, most times, doesn’t care about its most vulnerable community members.
“When [they] look at one of us, they see the worst case and that’s what they equate to most of us. So when a [housed] resident looks at us, and they see the person on 4th [Avenue] screaming … that’s what they see when they see us. They put us all in one bubble,” Steele said.
Steele says Real Change is his midpoint for connecting with his community and letting his fellow vendors know about the jam sessions at Recovery Café. He invites anyone to grab one of the provided instruments and join him at Recovery Café every Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Hoping cops do better
Joanne Mooney, badge #12727, has myriad goals, including visiting Real Change’s Vendor Center as often as possible, selling as many papers as she can, saving enough money for a trip with friends, reading her Bible more and doing better at taking her meds in a timely manner. However, one goal is at the top of her list.
“I want to try and not be afraid of the cops and doctors. There [are] some people that aren’t afraid, [but] I am,” Mooney said. “Due to an incident a year ago, I think being afraid of doctors and cops is a big trauma for me because [of] what happened to me. I’m so afraid to even walk in Seattle … so afraid to go outside. When I see a cop, I have to take a deep breath.”
Mooney recounted an incident that happened when she was around 20; the police barged into her home without a warrant and accused her of pulling a knife on an individual. She said she was taken to a mental health facility without being told why and described how painful it was to be off her medication; she felt dragged around and desperately wanted to leave.
Mooney insisted that the city should require the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to create extensive training for cops interacting with individuals with disabilities and mental illnesses during emergencies or times of crisis. She remembers once an SPD officer connected with her to learn ways the department could improve its interactions with disabled individuals or those with mental illnesses. However, Mooney never received an update from the officer.
“You [have] people with schizophrenia. There’s people [who are] bipolar. There’s people with PTSD. There’s people who can’t even talk, and cops just go after them because of that reason,” Mooney said. “Those with developmental disabilities deserve to be heard, not to be mistreated. [Cops] could do so much better with these people on the streets — just work with them and not against them.”
Finding volunteering efforts
Ryan Monroe, badge #13662, believes the city of Seattle should create more volunteer-based positions within programs providing aid to homeless individuals. He said it would be a good way of assessing a person’s character, determining if that individual is there because they have a genuine interest in helping or if they are only there to be paid.
“That’s when you get people in there that don’t care about the people that are homeless and their needs. They just care about their paycheck, and they do whatever the people who are paying them tell them to do,” Monroe said.
Monroe appreciates how Real Change is genuine in its own goal of creating systemic change for low-income and homeless individuals in Seattle. He pointed out that being able to come into the Vendor Center for a hot cup of coffee and a warm place to stay for a few hours means a lot for someone who has nowhere to go.
Elevating Real Change
David Jones Sr., badge #14202, better known by Real Change staff and his customers as Canada, has many hopes for Real Change in 2024. First, he’d like to see a 24-hour vendor station, pointing to how it would serve the organization well to have our name out there and for people to consistently be in contact with Real Change. Jones said he also wouldn’t mind canvassing through neighborhoods to interact with people interested in reading the newspaper. Being a vendor for six years has allowed Jones to meet people from all walks of life. He’s also connected with people who’ve never heard of Real Change, and he wants to change that.
“A lot of people I encounter don’t even know about Real Change, but if we go around knocking on doors and passing out [papers] — a real handshake, eye contact — that’s how we can elevate to the next level,” Jones said.
Jones often offers advice to newer vendors struggling selling papers for the first time. He tells them to let the paper sell itself, a mindset that has seen him through. Jones is also involved in advocacy work. He recounted going to Olympia a few years ago with other vendors and Real Change staff members to bring awareness about the sanitary restrictions homeless individuals deal with on a daily basis. Jones remembers that, soon after, portable toilets were placed at designated areas in downtown Seattle, but they were gone a month later.
“The city got money to do all that. You can get these Porta-Potties to bring the smell down, and then hire somebody that can be a monitor,” Jones said. “People will respect [it] when they see a monitor.”
Jones urges the city of Seattle to look into developing more public restrooms that can be monitored by volunteer community members. He’d even like to be involved in that monitoring if it means that the city smells a little nicer.
Restarting at Real Change
Verna Williams, badge #13010, has been a vendor for nine years. She came back to Real Change recently after going on a hiatus to undergo surgery on her right hip. This year, Williams is looking forward to stepping back into her usual routine as a vendor. Williams’ main priority is to meet more people, both in the Real Change office and selling papers throughout Seattle. For folks trying to achieve their goal, Williams’ advice is to always be consistent, and it’ll all work out in the end.
Like many vendors, Charmaine Cooley, badge #14503, has a goal of selling as many papers as she can. This goal is especially important to her since her usual selling location was outside a Bartell Drugs in lower Queen Anne, which closed in September 2023, devastating Cooley’s sales. The customers who Cooley used to see each week are now barely visiting to buy a paper. However, Cooley intends to stay at her spot.
“I want to stay there, because I think I’ve become [a part] of the neighborhood and they don’t want another vendor because that’s something else that [will] change [for] them,” Cooley said. “I want to be able to sell enough papers to hold that spot, because they’re used to seeing me and they want me there.”
Cooley has received support from Real Change staff members who’ve shared different places she could possibly sell at. Other vendors have also connected with Cooley and advised her to find another location so she isn’t only relying on her original lower Queen Anne spot. Receiving this kind of support from both staff members and her community of vendors is helping Cooley cope with the situation and fueling her optimism to achieve her goals of clearing her debt and being a homeowner in the future.
Finding his footing
Noah Dusendang, badge #14948, joined Real Change in mid-January and described his experience so far as “cool.” Dusendang didn’t have prior knowledge about Real Change before joining, but it’s now become a staple in his life. That’s connected to Dusendang’s number one goal for the new year: find stability.
“I just want to be happier and have my own spot. I feel like I messed up. I moved in with my girlfriend, [and] that ended up not working out, so I kind of left,” Dusendang said. “I’d rather just get my own place, instead of having to rely on somebody else for a place.”
Dusendang was able to receive a spot at a shelter, and despite how difficult the past few months have been, he’s looking to build from there by utilizing the resources Real Change provides. He knows he has a long way to go to achieve that stability but is taking it one step at a time.
Creating a better life for his son
Martin Cervantes, badge #14928, joined Real Change in December and was adamant in sharing the positive impact it has had on his life. As a vendor, he’s able to create something of his own. He said it’s allowed him to become more attuned with himself and be aware of his strengths as an individual.
“I’m one of the toughest guys, and [the] question I get [from other vendors] is ‘where [did] you get this [money]?’ whenever I come and pick up my newspapers and money. I just tell them, ‘I go everywhere; I don’t give up.’ That’s one of the things — you should not give up on your life,” Cervantes said. “I’ve experienced hard things in my life but every time I overcome it — it’s like a gift to me.”
Cervantes is hoping to buy presents for his son and has a goal to sell as many papers to achieve that moment with his son. He also hopes to create an easier lifestyle for his son so that his child will never have to go through the struggles Cervantes dealt with both growing up and now.
Read more of the Feb. 7–13, 2024 issue.