Tony Jeffers is wearing a bright green and blue jacket when I meet him, with his signature Incredible Hulk backpack hidden underneath. He’s just started growing a well-trimmed goatee. After speaking with him, I have the feeling of having a lot of knowledge imparted to me, ranging from foreign travel policy to comic book trivia.
Tony was born in Oregon and grew up in Washington. Though he doesn’t want to talk about the early part of his life much, he says he has a son, Bryan, who lives in Oregon now with three kids. From 1998 to 2002, Tony worked in telemarketing in Seattle, where he received a lot of sales training and remembers when jobs were abundant. He was successful, but the office was closing, and in 2002 he met Rosalita, a woman in the Philippines, online. He married her and lived in the Philippines for eight years, moving around from place to place trying various businesses — from farming to offering English tutoring — without success.
They found themselves dependent on asking for money from people they knew in the U.S. When the economy took a downturn, that source dwindled. They became homeless. His wife’s family said they would take her back in, but Tony was not welcome. Some Filipino locals helped him get to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, where he received a repatriation loan and returned to the U.S. in 2010.
Tony started selling Real Change shortly afterward, in 2011, when he couldn’t find work. He was hesitant at first but soon had success. He would send money to Rosalita and repaid his repatriation loan while he lived in shelters. He also saved enough money to make another go of living abroad, and he traveled to live in a town on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico in September. Tony was impressed that he didn’t see any homeless people on the streets.
He tried offering English tutoring, but there were no takers, which he attributes to easy access to resources online. After several months he returned stateside, with only enough money to make it up to Austin, Texas. Austin had work opportunities, and he made a little money doing some woodworking there, but the pay was meant to be supplemental. He says Austin has “day sleep” shelters, where folks who work jobs at night, like cleaning stadiums, can sleep during the day. That type of shelter is “something that is really needed in Seattle,” he says. “It is really helpful for getting people back on their feet.”
He’s been back in Seattle since June, and he started selling papers at his spot on Second and Marion, in front of the Wells Fargo Center. In the morning he sees the commuters from the ferries in a rush. He finds people to be very generous. “I sure appreciate all their help,” he says of his customers.
Tony plans to keep selling Real Change for now. He is also taking some classes at the library, including one for improving his typing skills. He wants to live abroad again at some point, and tells me about all the options he’s been researching.
His other interests include reading history, science and classic comic books. When I ask what his favorite is, he says with a smile, “definitely Batman.”