George Sidwell remembers the day that his life changed forever.

“I was on the job, up on a roof. My vision was kind of spotty, and then my whole left side just went numb.

“I fell to the ground and thought I was going to die. The scariest part was thinking about dying alone.”

George’s devastating stroke took away his work, his financial security and his illusions about homelessness.

“I had always worked hard. I was used to being the giver, not the receiver. I was raised with the attitude that people are homeless because they want to be. I learned that wasn’t true.”

After the accident, whatever safety net George had soon unraveled.  After six weeks of relearning to walk, the medical bills wiped him out. His insurance was canceled. While George was disabled and deep in debt, the worst was still to come.

Less than two months after the accident, his home burned to the ground. George lost everything. That’s when he moved into a tent in Nickelsville. “I was pretty broken,” George remembers.  

“My spirit was gone.” This was during the great recession, and George found others like himself. “There were people who had made good money, lost their jobs and ran out of savings.

“There were people who came to help family, and thought they’d be able to find a job. And there were people with medical conditions, like me.” But George remained resilient; he found a way back on his feet.

“A friend told me about Real Change,” he recalls. “It sounded like something that could help me keep the dignity I had left. I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. You think I could make 15 or 20 bucks a day to cover my basic daily needs?’ He laughed a little and said, ‘Oh, you know, you make what you wanna make. You oughta give it a try.’”

“My first day out there, I bought 20 papers and sold out within an hour and a half. That kind of started me onto the track to where I am now.”

When George became a Real Change vendor, he found a lot more than a job. He found a community, a voice and a path toward healing.

He became a vendor activist, and a popular member of our Homeless Speakers Bureau. He joined Real Change’s Vendor Advisory Board, and was elected 2018 Vendor of the Year by his peers.

 “It was really scary telling my story at first. Sometimes it really gets emotional. It’s like I’m almost there again.” George hopes that others can learn from his experience.

“I really believe that a lot of people judge and put homeless people into a box just because they’re not there at this point in time. There are people really out there that don’t want to be, but they are. The negative attitude makes them feel worthless. It makes them feel like they are not a part of society — separated — like they have some kind of disease.

“It eats at their hope. After a while, they start giving up because everyone’s saying all these things and nothing is working for them yet, so why even try?”