If you have been buying Real Change for a while, you might recognize Larry Elmore. He started selling Real Change in 2004 and has been here ever since.
Elmore arrived in Seattle in 1981 from his hometown of Dallas, Texas. “I thought it would be good for me to get away, ya know because my mom had just passed and I was going through a few rough times,” Elmore said. Only having been back to Texas a handful of times since he left, Seattle has been home since then. Elmore has 10 siblings, and even though two of them have passed away, he still sees the others frequently. “They all have been up here a couple times and I have been back to see them a couple of times. We stay in contact through phone calls though,” Elmore said.
Elmore has been off the streets for a year, which is something to celebrate. It was never a secret from his family that he was living on the streets in Seattle. “At times my family offered help but I really wanted to make it on my own,” Elmore said. Though Elmore does have a place to call his own now, he has been battling homelessness on and off since he’s been here.
When Elmore dropped out of school after 11th grade, he worked odd jobs, everything from restaurants to construction jobs. Elmore moved here for a change of pace. When he started hanging out with what he calls “the wrong type of people” here in Seattle, he had to learn to power through. Today, he says, it’s by the grace of God that he has made it through the turbulence, “God is my higher power and I think very, very highly of him. He has pulled me through some really rough times.” Elmore knows that the biggest struggle of being homeless is getting back on your feel after it has happened. He knows just having services doesn’t mean you automatically get back on your feet. “I had to renew a lot of things but it’s slowly coming together for me” Elmore said.
While talking with Elmore, you can tell how grateful he is for his customer base. “Customers come to know me and I like that,” Elmore said. One of the hardest parts of selling Real Change is competing with panhandlers. He has a strategy for dealing with panhandlers who are bothering him or when people are passing him without even acknowledging him. “I always try to keep smiling and to keep my head up.”
Elmore currently sells at the Safeway in the Admiral district. “I have been at this spot for a couple of years now. It’s the second spot I’ve had and I’ve grown a liking to it,” Elmore said. “I’ve been out in this in rain, sleet and snow and I do enjoy it. I have my bad times but mostly good times. I have a lot of customers who have come to know me from being there. They tell me they don’t buy from anyone else but me because I am their special vendor,” Elmore says.
Getting back on his feet hasn’t been easy.. He has lost contact with his 42-year-old daughter. “I just want to get back our relationship. I didn’t have a phone and now don’t know how to contact her,” Elmore said. He is her only living parent and wants to build that relationship again just like he has built with his customers.
While times are hard, Elmore knows to keep his head up. “Thank you very much Real Change for putting up with me for this long and I am very grateful for everything.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jon Williams has been an artist, photographer, designer and editor for many publications, including The Sacramento Bee, The Rocky Mountain News, The Los Angeles Daily New, The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News and The Kitsap Sun. He is currently the Art Director at Real Change, and the founder of the Real Change portrait project. He lives in Poulsbo, WA.