When Mikey Henderson was first introduced to Real Change, he was living under the freeway on Sixth and Columbia. “People would panhandle, especially something called ‘flying,’ where they use signs. They stand there all day and it’s a way to get money. But I didn’t feel right about that because I was uncomfortable with how people looked at you and asked ‘Why don’t you get a job?’” said Henderson. “I’m kind of one of the quiet or shy type of people.”
Henderson had a friend, who was working for Real Change at the time, who told him how easy it was to sign up. All he had to do was sign up and take a class. “People would look at you differently [when selling Real Change] because at least you were doing things differently,” Henderson said.
Growing up, Henderson lived on Bainbridge Island. “It was very rural and small town-ish. Only in the last 10 years or so has it lost its feel,” Henderson recalls. It has changed vibes, but Henderson said he wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else.
After Henderson finished high school, he had a few jobs. “I used to work for a salmon farm. I was working in the production end and then I switched to Atlantic salmon, and I ended up going to Alaska,” Henderson said. His brother had a friend from high school who had connections to fish-processing jobs up in Alaska. He ended up getting all of their friends’ jobs during the fishing season. During the off season, they would head back to Seattle. “I ended up working on boats for years until I ended up getting hurt in the late ’90s and quit going up there,” Henderson said.
Henderson remembers how his brother helped him get off the streets for a few years in the 2000s. “My brother said, ‘You are gonna come live with us, but you have to go out and do something during the day while we’re gone,’” Henderson said. “When I moved in, I became this very important person in this household because I received cash every day from selling Real Change. I didn’t have the wait for payday,” Henderson said.
But it didn’t go well for too long. Henderson went to make a rent payment for the place he was staying with his brother and sister-in-law, and the landlord accidentally put it toward utilities instead. So, they received a late notice and were evicted. Henderson had enough money saved up that he was able to rent a storage unit to shelter all of his stuff, as well as his brother and sister-in-law’s stuff.
His brother ended up getting a divorce and found a place by himself. Henderson would stay three nights a week with his brother. That was also where he ended up keeping most of his stuff. His brother soon passed away and everything changed. They had a plan to get a small place together with maybe even a cat. “That was going to be our little family,” Henderson said.
Today, Henderson is almost 60 years old. His days revolve around getting up in the morning and going to sell his Real Change on Denny and Aurora. When he’s done, he figures out where to stay that night so that he can be warm. “I just want to get a place eventually, get housing, be safe and secure and warm. That would be the most ideal situation. I can’t think past that. To be able to go home and to eat dinner and sit down and watch TV. That may sound boring to some people, but that sounds like a dream to me,” Henderson said. He has been staying at different shelters in Seattle and is waiting to hear back about more permanent housing.
“Real Change has been very good to me. The best part about it, is that I know what I am doing tomorrow,” Henderson said. He also wanted to let everyone know, “I’m the little guy you see at Denny and Aurora with a walker,” Henderson said, “I’m Mikey and if anyone would like to talk to me, they can go ahead. If you see me in a store or on the sidewalks, just say hi.”
About the artist
Acrylic on wood by Real Change art director Jon Williams