Our vendors: Norma Gastelum (Real Change, Seattle, USA)

By Bri Little, Real Change

Norma Gastelum has had a rough life, but she’s a fighter.

She’s originally from Southern California and, as a child, she was never in one place for too long.

“I moved around a lot because I grew up an orphan,” she says. “I grew up in the system and stayed in group homes my whole life. I never got adopted.”

She eventually made her way up the West Coast and came to Seattle in 2010 to live with a partner, then lost her housing after the relationship ended. “I was in a relationship for eight years when I moved here, and I’ve been homeless since October [of 2016] so a little over a year.”

During her interview with Real Change, Norma was transparent about her struggle to maintain mental health. She believes that her unhoused status is partly due to a recurring mental illness.

“I’ve had some mental health issues happen to me so that’s also why I’m homeless,” she explains. “Yeah, I ended up in hospital a couple times. They say I’m bipolar, so I take medication for that.”

Luckily, Norma has found a good fit with Real Change. She was first introduced to Real Change in November of 2016 by her current partner, David. The flexibility and freedom of selling hours is what keeps her interested in being a vendor. She likes selling Real Change because “you make your own hours. You’re not working at a job where you have to clock-in at a certain time. The way that things happen now [for homeless people] is stressful, and we shouldn’t be living like that.”

When Norma isn’t selling Real Change, she enjoys coloring “because it’s fun and relaxing.” She is also quite an athlete. She enjoys playing all kinds of sports, especially softball. She tells Real Change that, “[As a kid] I used to play three sports in one school year: basketball, soccer and softball.”

Despite her quiet and often reserved demeanor, Norma is resilient in the face of any challenge. She has faced many obstacles since childhood, and she continues to tackle them in a stoic manner. She says that she wants readers to know that she is “very strong-willed.” If you see Norma posted on her corner selling Real Change, she might not call you over, but she would be happy to get to know you.