People in Seattle are busy. They need to make ends meet. According to Real Change Vendor Michael Wiggins, 53, people will eventually crash into a wall, which he’s witnessed happen literally with people looking down at their phones and not paying attention to their surroundings. Then they are able to look up and see Michael, who says, “Good morning!” And Seattleites respond with a cup of coffee and by purchasing a paper. And then they keep moving forward.
Michael has been with Real Change since its very beginning. He grew up in foster care and later became homeless after he emancipated himself at 15-years-old. With a polite and soft spoken manner about him, Michael explains that after he left foster care, he worked as a bookie and lived in a room on Capitol Hill.
When asked about what led him to live on the streets, he looked down and said, “That part is kind of baffling. … I decided not to go home anymore. … My apartment contained nothing. A piece of cardboard here and there. Living on the street was like breathing air. Like a lot of air.”
Growing up in foster care prepared Michael for living on the streets. Foster care is an overburdened system where children are seen as an expense. The world that Michael experienced closed him off from the opportunity of being capable of saying, “I’m going home.”
“It’s unfortunate that the system allowed the mistreatment of the kids. The system had rules, but behind a closed door, it doesn’t matter (to the system) if you have a rack of guns.”
Growing up in foster care created a divot in Michael’s mind. Depression became a thing of permanence in Michael’s life and he is still learning about the roots of his struggle with depression. He describes his experience with depression as biblical. The depression came in waves, like the seasons.
Almost a year ago was the turning point in Michael’s life, when he decided that he could no longer keep living like this. Michael woke up and realized that he was struggling mentally.
“I went to the mental health ward at Harborview and actually understood [why I was there].” One day in July, he started cleaning his room. “I wasn’t ready for four walls, and then when I counted, I actually have six.”
You have to be honest with yourself in order to realize that your direction in life needs shifting. Michael is making progress. And the way people on the street interact with him has improved over time. “I am opening doors, going through them, and not being afraid.”
In Michael’s opinion, he is one of those people who has crashed into a wall, but he is able to look up and see where he can move forward. Despite his struggle with depression, he has found strength in seeing others push forward and moving on. Every human being needs something to keep them going. “Put your good foot forward, no matter how many times you get smacked around, put the other foot forward and let that one rest a while.”