“real change,” the homeless

While in Seattle yesterday I was lucky to find one of my favorite reads, a street newspaper. Since learning about this network of national, even global, homeless newspapers, I make it a point to seek out its vendors wherever I travel. Helping these people help themselves gives me great satisfaction. Giving money to individuals seems a more organic thing for me to do than putting a check in an envelope, addressed to an organization. I do some of that, but I so prefer pressing my money into the hand of someone whose smile blesses me in return.

In this week’s copy of Seattle’s “Real Change,” was the following article which warmed my heart, as I’m sure it will warm yours.

Vendor of the Week
Paulette Bade

Paulette Bade has an infectiously positive attitude. When I arrive to meet her, just past 8 a.m. on a chilly Monday morning, she’s already been selling the paper for over an hour. We can see our breath and the sidewalk where she’s selling is mostly quiet, but Paulette is all smiles. When she sees me, she exclaims that it’s so cold this morning she probably wouldn’t have shown up if she were me. I find it hard to believe; Paulette always shows up, 7 a.m., six days a week, without fail. She is happy to be selling a paper she believes in, talking with customers she knows and cares about, and saving money for her future.

Paulette has been selling Real Change outside the Whole Foods store at 64th and Roosevelt since the start of the new year, moving recently from her previous location at the QFC down the road. Luckily, staying in the same neighborhood, she’s been able to maintain a lot of her same customers–people who still stop by to visit with their favorite vendor and buy a paper once a week.

Image via Wikipedia

When she started selling the paper–in 1999, incredibly–it was only to make some extra cash. Her ambition soon swelled, though, and she now sells more than 300 papers each month. Starting out, Paulette had been homeless for close to eight months, staying in a local DESC shelter. She eventually moved into Nickelsville, the only place that would let her keep her two cats and where she met her current boyfriend. The four of them have since moved into an apartment near the store.

“Now I want to put money in the bank. I want to do better for myself,” she tells me. Paulette has been saving up her earnings from selling the paper in hopes of moving into a better home, somewhere where they can have more space and the two kitties can roam around.

As we talk, customers leaving the store or walking by greet Paulette like an old friend. They know her well, and she knows them. She points out customers to me, telling me who writes poetry and who buys the paper for the crossword puzzles. She loves this part of the job, even with the uncertainty that sometimes comes along with it.

“You never know from one day to the next how many you’re going to sell or how much you’re going to make,” she says. But even on slow days she powers through, reading the new issue each week, trying both to know her product and her community.

When I ask what her customers outside of Whole Foods mean to her, she is flushed with joy.

“I’m thankful to all my customers. I appreciate them just stopping by and saying ‘Hi.’ Their smiles make my day, everyday.”

written by Adrienne Brown

paulette’s teaching me about simplicity…and love… for all…hugmamma.

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helping the disenfranchised, “real change”

Today I was reminded of what I’d seen occur elsewhere in the country. A black man stood outside the front door of Trader Joe’s, approaching customers as they walked into the store. He seemed to gauge a person’s reaction first, before stepping forward. He was in the process of speaking with someone when I walked by, entering the market.

After making my purchases, I exited Trader Joe’s heading for my car where I unloaded the groceries. Returning to the front of the market with the empty cart, I decided to ask the man who’d been there when I entered, what it was he was selling. I had a hunch about his product, but wasn’t absolutely certain.

I waited while he moved wayward carts into position where they were housed. When I asked what he was selling, he confirmed what I’d thought. He was selling “Real Change,” probably more widely known as the “homeless” newspaper, at a dollar apiece. Fumbling though my wallet, I parted with my last $3, and told him I only wanted one paper.

On several visits to the city where my daughter resides, we’d see one or two individuals selling newspapers on the sidewalks outside of church, as we were driving away. Unsure as to who they were, we never slowed down to inquire. Not too long ago, a friend with whom she dances told my daughter that the people we’d seen, and others like them, were homeless men and women trying to earn money. They’d purchase each copy for $.35, and sell them for $1 each. A way to make a living, however meager.

In reading through the few pages that comprise the “Real Change,” I find it to be a “mixed bag” of articles pertaining to those who live on the fringes of society.

“Don’t overlook dangerous stereotypes of the mentally ill” written by Judy Lightfoot, a contributing writer, is about Washington’s SEIU Healthcare union’s use of inflammatory imagery on behalf of mental illness, to keep legislators from cutting funding . Suggesting that sufferers of the disease might resort to violent crimes if government aid is withdrawn, has other advocacy groups up in arms. Some 300 of them have raised concerns that such a stigma would prove unfavorable for their clients in the short, and long-term. After much back and forth, both sides agree they should work together on behalf of the mentally ill. Jonathan Rosenblum at SEIU Healthcare 1199NW concluded that ” ‘All of us who advocate for better mental health care have a tough job to do, connecting the dots with the general public without causing more fear of “the Other.” There’s always a fine line between hauling out the crisis and stigmatizing,’ ” but what advocacy ” ‘ does not need is a lot of “he-said-she-said” about stigmatizing. We need to work together.’ “

“Othello public market aims to create multicultural bazaar”  by another contributing writer, Tom Fucoloro, is more upbeat, demonstrating that living on the fringes is not all bad. It can offer variety, and add “color” to drab existences. A non-profit group is retrofitting a large “Citadel” building which formerly served as a bowling alley, a retail center, a church, and recently, as a venue for raves. The Othello Public Market will be a large, year-round, indoor, public market reflective of the area’s cultural diversity. Current census data indicates that Seattle’s 98118 zip code is the most ethnically diverse in the United States. Market founder Mateo Monda “hopes to fill the big blue building with stalls of produce, hot food, live chickens, a creamery, jewelry and cell phone sales…He has mainly been searching for people whose products are affordable and add to the range of cultures represented. Of course, American food and goods are still welcome…….. ”  Of his personal life Monda says ” ‘I’m living in a sit-com situation, basically,’ with his 81-year-old father, 2 Mexican daughters entering their teens, and his dog.”

From the “Director’s Corner” comes this

I’ve recently been advised that I need to be more positive. That all this doom and gloom about how bad things are just doesn’t do it for people. They want to know about solutions, not problems. They would like more stories about how, amid the wide-spread screwing of the poor, someone got off the street through effective case management and into affordable housing.

It happens. But if people want reassurance that our efforts are somehow adequate and that things are remotely OK, they don’t need me. There are plenty of others, from HUD on down, who are happy to give that perspective. According to them, chronic homelessness is down by 5 percent.

The 2010 National Conference of Mayors’s report on hunger and homelessness is a bit more believable. In the 27 cities surveyed, requests for food assistance rose last year by an average of 24 percent. Here in Seattle, we report that 18 percent of demand went unment, and that food banks are struggling to accommodate rising need without increased resources.

One politician promoted in the article as a role model for others is Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota, who calls for an increase in taxes for the wealthy “whose fortunes have only improved amidst widespread economic pain.” Dayton is quoted as saying, “ ‘To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase–including no forced property tax increase–I say, if you can do so without destroying our schools, hospitals and public safety, please send me your bill, so I can sign it immediately.’ “

The article concludes,

Our work, simply put, is to create the environment where leaders such as Dayton can survive and win. If the people, as Gregoire says, ‘have spoken’ and there will be no new taxes, it’s because she has not offered the right message. We need to help her with that.

“real change”…a newspaper with a message…hugmamma.

check out the “real change” website for more information, and while there, view their mission statement on youtube.