Thomas Shipley has been to the emergency room four times in the past month. “This last Saturday I woke up about 11:30 a.m. and I literally couldn’t breathe. They had to call the ambulance for me. They were really cool to me at the hospital. It was three o’clock in the morning when they discharged me and [the hospital] let me sleep in the emergency room.” Thomas smokes two packs of cigarettes a day. “I’m going to have to quit.” But he says God isn’t going to let him die.
Thomas grew up on Long Island, N.Y. one of five kids. His dad left when he was 11. His mother worked in a factory to support the kids, but left when he was 16. Thomas figured if he stayed on Long Island, he’d end up in prison, so he headed out West. “I went to the oil fields and I started working.” That was dangerous work: “I’m so grateful I still got my fingers and toes.”
He worked on oil rigs for 20 years. He started having problems with mental illness, exacerbated by being addicted to a drug. “I haven’t done it in about ten years.” He got behind on the rent with his landlord. “He got violent with me and [then] he sued me. He lied about how much I owed him. The judge was practically cheering him on.”
Thomas had tried to get Social Security disability benefits because of his mental illness, but was denied; a few years later, in Montana, he tried again.
“Bozeman people helped me out, they really did. They got me an apartment before I even had my Social Security.” But he didn’t like that he had to get his money from a payer who approved all his expenditures. Eventually, he got back control of his money.
“Things started falling apart. I started on the scratch [lottery] tickets. I’m a little bit addicted to gambling. I’m going to quit doing that.”
Thomas ended up in Seattle. His driver’s license was stolen and his time ran out at the Millionaire’s Club. That’s when he started selling Real Change. He found a home in Tent City 3,
currently near NE Ravenna Blvd. and NE 65th St. That’s not too far from his selling location. “
It’s great. I love it. I sell at Northgate’s and Roosevelt’s Walgreens. People come up and actually buy papers from me. I got regular customers. I love them. They help me out a lot.”
Selling Real Change has given Thomas some ideas for the future. “I plan on making money in sales. Sales is the second highest-paid occupation in the United States.”
But once he’s on his feet, what he’d really like to do is open an orphanage. “If there’s anything left for me to live for, that’s what I’m living for. If I live that long. But I think I will. I think the Lord will get me off cigarettes.” In return, “I’m going to start taking care of the Lord’s business."