Johnnie Johnson, or J.J., as his friends call him, was born in New York City and grew up in a small rural town in Virginia called Hampton Roads.
Everybody knew everybody, and it was the kind of place where you could leave your doors unlocked.
"If you did something good the whole community would know about it," he said, "and if you did something bad the whole community would know about it, too."
J.J. moved to Ohio to be with his brother, though roughly six months after he arrived his brother moved to South Carolina, leaving J.J. in Ohio. He stayed there for 15 years, until finally moving out to Seattle because he believed he would be able to make more money.
In the context of the current job market, that turned out not to be true. It was a tough transition for J.J.
"I was in a strange place where I didn't know anybody. I had no place to stay."
J.J. had sold newspapers in Ohio and he looked to see if there was a similar paper in Seattle. He began selling Real Change on the corner of Nineth and Stewart about a week after he arrived at Seattle.
J.J. moved into the Roy Street Shelter in June 2011, more than a year after he moved to Seattle. The people there are very caring, he said, and were some of the first people he encountered who wanted to help him get housing. One of the workers, Anna, helped J.J. find housing even after she stopped working there, he said.
J.J. should know within the next week whether he will gain permanent housing, and his outlook is hopeful. He is grateful to the people at the Roy Street Shelter and his customers on the corner of Nineth and Stewart.
Even when he struggles to sell papers, J.J. tries to stay positive.