“I’ve always thought about it like a license to say ‘Hello,’” says Dennis on selling Real Change. “I mean, how else could you stand there and say ‘Hello’ to 85 people?” Dennis asked, laughing. With a grin almost as endearing as his philosophy, Dennis admits that he “enjoys the act of just saying hello to people just as much as the money.”
Dennis grew up in Minneapolis. He did machine work and roofing there before he found himself homeless.
January marked five years since Dennis came to Seattle. He had met a friend, and a new home, in a “tent city through SHARE/WHEEL.” He decided to move from Minnesota to the Pacific Northwest because Seattle “seemed survivable.”
“I was 54 years old. I think [the move] was a big deal for being 54 already. Some people get stuck in their ways and don’t wanna change doctors or go to the other side of town.”
Dennis lived in the sanctioned encampment for one year.
“Anybody could become homeless. But they shouldn’t stay there. I just hate to see the people laying and sleeping on the sidewalk. The tent city was a big step up from that itself, just being an organized group. And that must be because I like being around other people. … It’d be nice if Seattle sanctioned more urban encampments like that.”
Dennis questioned homeless resources provided by the city.
“There’s something going on that I don’t quite understand. They say there’s a billion dollars a year being spent in Washington on homelessness. A billion, not a million. But that’s for nonprofits, and so you gotta take it from there. Where is the money really going sometimes? … There’s a lot of gray areas. All the billion dollars you’d think there’d be no homelessness, wouldn’t ya? That sounds like an incredible, large amount.”
Words spoken by a gutsy, late traveler who’s picked up on a few of life’s imperfections, if nothing else. Nevertheless, Dennis admitted that solving this crisis is easier said than done: “I guess everyone would wanna be homeless if it meant they were gonna get a free home out of the deal.”
Dennis is now housed.
“I was in the William Booth center for six months, and King County Veterans helped me get Section 8 program without waiting on the list.” Since securing housing, Dennis has continued to travel and to greet people.
“Just after I got my housing, almost three years ago I went to Nairobi, Kenya, with a church group. So I went from being homeless to having my own apartment and a passport, and I went all the way to Africa. I’ve been back to Minnesota five times to see my grandchildren and children; selling Real Change will help me save for my next trip to Minnesota,” Dennis says, laughing. “That’ll be my commercial.”
Dennis traveled to Nairobi with Redwood Family Church, which is located in Redmond. The group helped to cover half the cost of the trip so Dennis could join.
“We worked for about eight days in a village with no electricity or running water and helped them build a two-room schoolhouse, and then we went about 150 miles from there to a resort by the Maasai Mara game preserve and went on a wildlife safari for two and a half days.”
Dennis was struck, not only by the beauty, but by the people he met abroad.
“They were very poor, but they never really emanated that. They always seemed happy. … They didn’t seem like they were really missing out by not having much.”
And Dennis could relate: “Being the poorest one in our group money-wise, it seemed like, the people just seemed like my friends; like my brothers. … There was less of a cultural divide,” says Dennis, laughing.
Aside from selling Real Change and going to the gym to bike (while watching the connected TV set), Dennis enjoys free community dinners, not only to eat but to serve.
Talk about your friendly neighborhood vendor. If you’re ever passing by Bartell’s on Fifth and Olive, say hello to the gracious and gregarious Dennis. Already picked up your weekly copy of Real Change?
“A smile or a hello is just as important as if [you] buy a paper.”
Dennis is one of 300 active vendors selling Real Change. Each week a different vendor is featured. Wait, there's more. Check out the full March 7 - 13 issue.