Real Change News makes a difference in the community

This article was originally published in November 2004

(November 2004) — You’ve seen their faces and perhaps have met them outside PCC’s stores — the friendly vendors selling Real Change News, the bi-weekly newspaper on homeless issues. Your purchase of the paper makes a big difference in their lives. For every $1 newspaper that you buy, Real Change vendors get to keep a generous 70 cents.

But what you may not realize is that Real Change offers a variety of other fantastic programs designed to help homeless and low-income people. These programs range from StreetWrites — which teaches homeless and low-income people how to write effectively — to First Things First — an advocacy group that works to create low-income housing opportunities in Seattle.

PCC has long been proud to have a great relationship with Real Change. PCC has a policy of not allowing vendors to sell products or exchange money outside stores, with one exception — Real Change, a relationship that dates back many years.

PCC is a sponsor of Real Change’s 10th anniversary breakfast and fundraiser November 10 at the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle. Noted author Sherman Alexie will be the keynote speaker at that event. Check for details.

“We’re so appreciative of PCC’s support,” says Tim Harris, who founded Real Change. “Our vendors do really well at PCC stores. People often ask who our readers are and I tell them to visualize the PCC shopper because that’s where our vendors tend to really do the best. Our readership skews toward women. Most of our readers are professionals, have a college degree, and 45 percent of the people who answered our survey have an advanced degree.”

Harris started Real Change News 10 years ago after moving here from Boston. “I was looking for a way to involve homeless people in an effort to work on homeless issues, while helping them financially at the same time.” Today, more than 200 vendors sell an average of 40,000 newspapers each month at various stores in the Seattle area.

Harris says the paper plans to publish on a weekly, instead of bi-weekly, schedule beginning in January. The newspaper strengthens the community by building connections between the poor and their more affluent allies.

Homelessness is a serious problem in the Seattle area and across the United States. Harris says there are an estimated 7,500 homeless people in Seattle. The Urban Institute estimates that approximately 2.3 million to 3.5 million people are homeless in the United States. Twelve million Americans either are homeless now or have been at some point in their lives, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Families with children represent about 40 percent of the homeless population.

Real Change has created a video available on its Web site, in which vendors and other people talk about its programs. “My main income is from the paper,” says Patrick Bissel. “On a good day I’ll make about $25 in the morning. I get extra money from a disability, so I’m doing all right. Sometimes, though, it’s my bread and butter, selling the paper.”

“I like selling the papers because of the opportunity to meet so many different people from so many different walks of life,” says John Porter, another vendor. “I like the freedom, there’s no set time to go to work, there’s no set procedure, there’s no supervisors, so you’re kind of independent, and you’re responsible for your own actions.”

Real Change plans to publish on a weekly, instead of bi-weekly, schedule beginning in January. The newspaper strengthens the community by building connections between the poor and their more affluent allies.

One of Real Change’s most popular programs is StreetWrites, a workshop for homeless and low-income writers. Anitra Freeman founded and directs the program. “The actual reason for starting StreetWrites was that a lot of stuff that came to the editorial committee had wonderful quality to it, but needed polish,” she says. “To be really empowering I thought it would be better to start a workshop where people could help each other, give each other feedback to improve their writing, and to get more of it published and more of a voice out rather than my trying to edit everybody and teach everybody.

“I’m really, really excited about the way it’s developed,” she adds. “We put on public performances, we do our own publication, a chat book and magazine of our own, we have a radio show that somebody started independently, we have a Web site, we have an email group on the Web that has members all over the United States and even in Australia, and now we have our Australian members starting to get a StreetWrites group going in Melbourne, Australia.”

The newspaper’s parent non-profit organization, the Real Change Homeless Empowerment Network, runs the Homeless Speakers Bureau, from which homeless and formerly homeless people speak to businesses and community groups. Real Change also runs First Things First, a group working to create low-income housing in Seattle.

Harris says that First Things First is Real Change’s attempt to turn its readers into activists for homeless issues. About 1,000 people have signed up for the group’s email newsletter, which offers ways to make an impact on these issues.

Learn more by picking up a copy of Real Change and visiting the Web site at

Also in this issue

News bites, November 2004

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Letters to the editor, November 2004

PCC and Farm Aid, Supporting local farmers, Women's sex drive, and more