I wake up at 5:30 a.m. to my 8-month-old crying for a bottle, which kind of helps me because I read in this book that successful people wake up before the sun rises. I’ve been trying to get professional, to get my life in order, so I’ve been staying up instead of just giving her the bottle and going back to sleep.
I get up, get all of our clothes out (I have an 8-year-old, a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old) and I have to iron all of our clothes, wake them up, change diapers, get everyone dressed, faces washed. I warm the car up, make my coffee, get them in the car, take my two youngest to daycare and my oldest to Tacoma for school. Then I drive back out here.
When I first started selling Real Change, it was about a year ago. My house had just burned down two days before Christmas and I came out here for the shelter. It was my means of living, every inch. I had been panhandling before that. Then I ran into the Real Change and that was my means of survival.
Sometimes I tell people what I’m saving for. Right now, it’s for the holidays because my boys have this crazy Christmas list, and I’m like, “What are you thinking? Who do you think I am?” And so I say, “Hey, you guys want to help me get my kids’ Christmas list knocked out, I’ve got a Real Change paper here; it’s got some good information in it about Seattle.” It gets results.
I want to start a food truck and a nonprofit. The nonprofit is down the line, and it’s going to cost a lot of money. I want to open an alternative high school for African American students and be able to provide them with a high school diploma and other skills I think they need as an adult that I don’t think they know they’re supposed to be getting at that time that would help a lot of future obstacles. At least I didn’t know, I didn’t even know to worry about debt at that time. I was like, “Yay I’m 18, now I have a credit card!” and I messed it up. Now I’m 28, and I’m still working on all that stuff I messed up.
At night, I usually can get the kitchen clean and the dinner cooked in an hour and a half, maybe two. And then it takes an hour to get them all down. Then I can take my shower at 9. It’s a long shower though, I use all of the hot water until it turns cold. And I play music, and I have my candles, and I have to do that. And I sing. So that’s my time when I sing.
That’s Monday through Friday.
Being a Real Change vendor, living hand to mouth, it’s all you, and you do have to hustle. And so my day can start at 6 a.m. but it’s better if I get up at 4 a.m., 4:30 a.m. to get things going.
I was housed by Rapid Rehousing, so I have a studio now in the West Seattle Junction. Mainly it’s been getting my basic needs met. It means meeting with a lot of people. I found out my rent wasn’t able to be paid and that put me in a position of hustling really badly, like on hyperdrive for a solid week. It takes a couple of weeks to recover from that because you get sick.
It can take a homeless person 4 to 6 hours to get something done to get their needs met that takes a regular person who’s housed a half hour or so. That’s a huge, not stat but fact, for other people to know. So much of your day can be this one phone call, or one bus ride, or this missed meeting or an actual meeting with another person. It really puts a whole different spin on the way people view time management.
One thing I got schooled in is not to tell people where I sell, because there’s such a thing as sharking, people coming in to shark your spot.
It’s a really good spot because I can see children, it’s a really low key spot with families. It’s not like a downtown spot, there’s a lot of action going on and agro stuff and drugs. And there’s a lake, so I can look at the lake. I’ve tried selling there at different times of the day, but the best is in the evening when people are buying their groceries. The sweet spot is 5:30 p.m. — if you miss it, you’ve gone too long. I flip, I flip my papers like pizza. I’ve wrapped them in zip lock bags and tape the tops so they’re waterproof. I wear gardening gloves or landscaping gloves for the tack, so you can flip better. It keeps me warm, keeps me moving and it’s a visual that people love. It works great for children, by the way. From a distance, their eyes lock and their faces light up and you’re a rock star; it’s so awesome.
It helps if you genuinely don’t want anything from that person. It helps if you genuinely greet that person, like, “Nice shirt! Men who wear pink rule,” or just saying, “Those shoes are awesome,” or “What’s it going to do to get a smile out of you today,” whatever, whatever it might be.
But if you make them feel guilty or like they’re beholden to you in any way, then they’re going to give you the “I don’t want to look at you I’ve got horse blinders on.”
I’ve been guilty of that too. I don’t want to look at this person’s eyes and feel their pain. When people are ignoring and retracting, they think they can’t do anything to make it better. They don’t do anything, it’s learned helplessness. That’s something that I’m here to mythbust.
Real Change vendors are making the streets a friendlier place. So we’re opening up this dialogue. The paper is a prop that’s opening up a way for people to interact.
I need somebody to wake me up. I try to set my cell phone to wake me up, but there’s nothing annoying enough to wake me up. I think that all my ring tones sound like fairies, sitting in a field dancing, flying around having fun, so I really don’t wake up for it.
When I wake up, I sit at the edge of my bed for 10 minutes. Even when I was at the shelter, I’d sit for 10 minutes at the edge of my mat. So I get up, get dressed, I have to do chores. We work the front desk, letting people in and out, seeing what the residents need, so we have a security person. It’s not like real security. They won’t give me a Taser or anything like that.
By the time that’s over, I go back upstairs and put on warmer clothes. Normally that’s when I head this way to pick up papers. Sometimes I’ll just hang out because my time to sell, I like the dinner crowd. Some people commit to that six-hour, eight-hour day.
That’s really unnecessary for me. I’m not trying to make all of the money; I’m just trying to make enough for, you know, what I need.
My day will end probably about 8 o’clock, or until I get too cold. I try not to leave before 7 p.m., because it’s a big rush from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The dinner crowd, that’s what I call them.
Sometimes when I’m walking back to the bus stop I’m paying attention more because you never know who’s watching you across the street or whatever. They don’t know how much money you’re collecting, but they see that you are collecting money. You don’t know; people get robbed all the time.
That’s the end of my day selling. And then when I get back home, there’s dinner, we can get a late plate. Most of the time there’s dinner as long as someone’s on the board to cook dinner and you have to have a dishwasher for dinner to happen. If no one signs up, you don’t have dinner, but pretty much my customers take care of that for me, too, because I end up with cocoas all day when I’m out there.
I used to take Sundays off. Sundays are kind of slow if the Seahawks are playing. When they lost, I went in the store. Inside the store you could hear a pin drop. And they’re like yes, Seahawks lost. Ah, all right I’m packing it up, nothing’s happening.
Shelter life, you still get to keep your stuff there. It’s a process going to bed, because I’ve got my backpack. Your backpack, that’s it. That is the sum of your life right now. Even with someone you’ve known for three years and they’re like, “Oh I’ll watch your bag,” you’re like, “No.”
Now, I come home, I come in, I get my key and that’s my room and my bed.