Our vendors: James Jenkins (Real Change, Seattle, USA)

By Bridget Mountain, Real Change

You can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what James Jenkins wants you to remember when interacting with people. Just because someone is selling Real Change doesn’t necessarily mean they are homeless and just because someone might be slurring their words doesn’t mean that someone is intoxicated.

Jenkins has Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare neurological disorder. The symptoms include confusion, trouble swallowing and weakness of the arms or legs. “I was talking with my friend and he noticed that I was acting strange,” Jenkins recalls. “My speech was funny and was slurred. He worked at a disability clinic and had me wait for him to finish. The next day, I didn’t even want to shower, but he pushed me to do it and then took me to the hospital.”

At the hospital, the doctor knew something was wrong, but wasn’t equipped enough to handle it. At that time, Jenkins was living in Idaho, where he grew up. “[The doctor] had me life flown to Seattle and, in order to do that, my friend had to call my mom and tell her that I was on my way to Seattle,” Jenkins says.

At the time, Jenkins was in college. He had to leave school for a while because he had to get his ADEM under control. “As soon as I dropped out of school, I was dropped from my insurance,” Jenkins says. Thankfully, he was accepted at Harborview, where they took over his Medicare. He stayed at Harborview for over a month before they diagnosed him with ADEM.

Real Change Vendor James Jenkins selling papers at the 3rd Annual Womxn's March in Cal Anderson Park Saturday, Jan. 19. Photo by Jon Williams.

Jenkins copes with the disease as well as he can.

It still causes slurred or slower speech, weakness, numbness, short-term memory loss and a loss of balance. Thankfully, he has Social Security Income and Social Security Disability Income to help him out because he can’t work a desk job with his disability.

Jenkins has three brothers. His parents divorced when he was young, and he’s only close with one of them. As a result of being born and raised in Idaho, Jenkins is always asked if he was raised in the LDS church [The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints].

“You’re not the first person to ask me that, surprisingly,” Jenkins responds, with a smile that seems permanently etched on his face. “My dad was Mormon and my mom was Christian. My mom raised me to believe in whatever I want to believe in.”

While he liked growing up in Idaho, Seattle was somewhere he always wanted to be.

Today, Jenkins is living in Seattle. He is currently selling Real Change [which he’s been doing since July 2018] to supplement his SSI and SSDI because his ADEM doesn’t allow for a lot of nine-to-five jobs. Real Change allows him to work when he feels up to it.

It’s also helping him to save for hearing aids, which aren’t covered by his insurance and cost $6,000.