Our vendors: Robert Heath (Real Change, Seattle)

By Mike Wold, Real Change

Robert Heath got interested in selling Real Change when he was staying at the City Hall emergency shelter in Seattle. “A Real Change vendor on the mat said, ‘I make at least $20 a day selling Real Change. Give that a try,” he says.

Robert lives with his future wife, who’s in a wheelchair. “We’re in a tent until the city makes us move again.” The tent is currently under the viaduct, close to the Real Change office. That’s useful. “I’ve got to be here every Wednesday at 7.45 [to help unload the new edition].”

Robert Heath sell real change in Seattle. Photo by Martha Tesema

Robert has trouble walking. He says he has MS and that according to his doctors “within a year will not be able to walk at all.” He’s supposed to get a new wheelchair this month, one that’s big enough for his large frame and that has an electric motor: “These hills in Seattle are killing me.”

He and his fiancée have a business plan: “Once I get my electric wheelchair, we’ll go up and down the waterfront and through the park selling bottled water. I’ve had quite a few friends telling me they get anywhere from two to three hundred dollars a week selling water, so I’m going to give it a shot.

“I almost landed in the wheelchair permanently last night. I went to get supper and walked to 7-11, came out the door and got hit by a cab. He got me in my left hip.”

Robert probably won’t get the injury looked at. “I won’t go to the hospital unless it’s an emergency, [like] when I was in the war.”

Robert joined the Army in 1976 and the Navy in the 1980; he served a total of 19 years. “I was in Desert Storm and the second Iraq War,” he says. That’s where he got shot in the shoulder. He loved the military but wasn’t happy about the war. He says it was kill or be killed. “I’ve got what they call PTSD from all that, but I probably served my country.”

Robert gets some money as a veteran and free medical care, but it’s “not enough”. He’s been fighting to be declared partially disabled. He doesn’t want his doctors to say he’s 100 percent disabled. “If I can get them to just say partial then I can work.”

In spite of his disability, Robert occasionally gets work as a sky crane operator, though he finds it more and more difficult to get up into the cab.

In the meantime, Robert stays active at Real Change and in his church. He’s an elected vendor representative at Real Change. His church is hoping to use its parking lot for a tent city, and he’s volunteered to help with onsite security.

Being in the church has its perks. He recently got to give Russell Wilson [American football player for the Seattle Seahawks] some advice about how to be a good quarterback: “Pass that ball, stay in the pocket!” He adds for the rest of us: “Go Seahawks!”

INSP publishes an international vendor story every week. Come back next Wednesday to read another story from one of the thousands of inspirational men and women who sell street papers.