Real Change vendor Michael Johnson has been homeless off and on for the last 30 years. Being abused as a child led him into a life of drug and alcohol misuse, culminating in mental illness and time in prison.
SEATTLE – Vendor Michael Johnson committed a crime, went to a mental institution and a program there. “I’m just sad that I was so gone, I was so lost. I call it a life of hell… Then I came back to the world changed.”Michael’s roots include Creoles in Louisiana and a grandmother who was a full-blooded Blackfoot Indian. He grew up in Bremerton; his dad was in the military, a Vietnam veteran. He’d like to write a book about his life, starting from when he was 8 years old. He would tell how he was abused as a young person and how he’s struggled with drugs, alcohol and disability all his life. “I was going to go into the military until I got in trouble. That messed my career up. I was going to go into the Army and then I was going to become a cop.”
Writing a book is ambitious. Michael is dyslexic, which makes it doubly hard. “I can read but I see my words upside down. It’s hard for them to put me in a school that can help me because I can’t pass tests. I’m not giving up because I know there’s always a will and there’s always a way.”
Michael sells Real Change at Westlake Center, a shopping mall in downtown Seattle. The newspaper “has been a real inspiration in my life. I come down here and [vendor staff] are kind, they explain things to you, they tell you what you can do and what you can’t do, they develop a positive atmosphere.” He also feels part of a community of vendors. When he sees another vendor on the street, he thinks, “I’m a vendor, too!” and says that vendors really look out for each other.
Michael thinks a lot about what it means to be homeless. “A lot of people don’t like the homeless, and I fight that. I say that just because I’m homeless, I’m still a human being. He would like there to be a “dream house” for people who are homeless – “they’d be allowed to stay there for a month” and then they’d have a base for trying out other things.
As for what he would try out, he has a lot of ideas: “travel, writing articles, and educating people on drug and alcohol abuse.” Someday, he’d like to go to college. “I have to start doing something; I have to continue to educate myself. My awareness is a lot higher than it’s ever been. I’m going to do good this time. I want to work with people that are disadvantaged. I’m going to do the right things I need to do to help myself and help somebody else in the process.”
By Mike Wold