It’s not surprising Tyrone Kenney played on his high school football team. He has the build of a linebacker and played the position on his school’s football team.
He grew up in Georgia, but “I’ve been in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Detroit, Chicago, Florida. I worked for a car detailer. I’ve been a DJ. I got tired of DJing and went to cooking.” He cooked in cafeterias and went to a cooking school in New Orleans.
In Pittsburgh, he had a commercial cleaning business. He’d been married and then a widower and then married again.
Then a major car wreck left him with multiple broken bones. Recovery took a year and a half. His wife left him. He came to Seattle to make a new start.
“Shelter stuff was a struggle. I was thinking about leaving.” If he went back to Georgia, he could stay with family.
But he met his fiancée and decided to stay. Things were looking up. “I was over at the Bread of Life [across from Real Change offices]. I never saw a paper like that, so I figured I see what it’s all about. I got through the orientation and started selling. Took me a month and a half to find my own area.”
Selling papers gave him some extra money; eventually he and his fiancée got into an apartment. “It’s not just selling the papers. People come up to you and they’re going through something. You try to have a good word for them. I even pray with some of the customers.”
Now that his situation has improved, Tyrone’s trying to give back. “The money I make, I try to put it back in to the community. Homeless people here, I’ve never seen that kind of homeless before. This is America! We’re supposed to be able to change things.”
Tyrone sees part of the problem in the economic situation. “It’s hard to find places. The price is too high for the people. Someone gets a job and when they get off work they ain’t got nowhere to go.”
But he also thinks some people on the street give up too easily. “God wakes us up every day to give us a new start. Set yourself a goal, a small goal, something you can accomplish that shows that you’re going forward.”
As part of addressing the problem, Tyrone has co-founded a small nonprofit called “God Is.”
“The first project, we’re just doing small stuff.” They volunteer for community events in Rainier Beach and support a chess club in the neighborhood. The eventual goal is to get land and build houses for people without homes.
Tyrone sees selling Real Change as contributing to that goal. “The wonderful thing about that paper, it tells you about what’s truly going on in the depths of the hearts of people. Just to see a smile on someone else’s face, you can pass along. It takes so much energy to be sad, but it don’t take that much to smile.”