Brenda Williams had never been to Seattle. But she wanted to live in a place where it rained. Someone told her that it rains a lot, she said, “That’s not going to get me down.”

A bartender in Las Vegas, Brenda was working from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. when a woman came in, nursed a single drink for an hour and left a $200 tip. “That’s probably the best [night] I ever had. I wound up making a thousand dollars. I walked up to my boss and said, ‘I’m giving you two weeks’ notice.’”

Brenda grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley. She was a cheerleader all through high school. “I’ve always been an outgoing personality.” So she had no trouble finding a job at Macy’s when she arrived in Seattle. She got laid off, her unemployment ran out, and she became homeless.

A friend told Brenda she had the right attitude and personality to sell Real Change. “I just stuck with it. It helped me get through the years of homelessness.” Of her customers, she says, “There are certain people I like because they’re good people. They’re human beings. There’s some that I really adore, that I share issues with, that are mentors.”

On a cold day, people don’t buy as readily. “I feel like a Chihuahua standing out here, shivering like a little dog. You know those cute little Chihuahuas: That’s what I feel like. But I can still smile and talk.” There’s a darker side to being a Real Change vendor. “You gotta be careful on the street. People like to start trouble and say things. I ignore them. Then they leave me alone. I don’t take anything personal. If I did, I’d be a basket case when I went home. And I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.”

In December 2015, a man she was with suddenly and unexpectedly attacked her, leaving her injured and permanently blind. Brenda spent more than a week in the hospital, recovering from broken ribs, a broken collar bone and irreparable damage to her green eyes.
A in Visual Communication Northwest College of Art. You can see her work at

“I don’t feel bitter,” Williams said. “I don’t believe in hurting people. Just because you had something that happened don’t mean you need to take it out on other people.”

She now lives in an adult family home.


Nicole Gelinas is a fine artist, photographer and graphic designer in Washington State. She has a BF