When Tricia Sullivan moved to Seattle she had worked for years in the insurance industry. But she had a dream. She planned to open a holistic café where people could learn meditation and healing arts. Her larger vision was of a “massive global awakening” in which “hunger, poverty, war, violence, injustice or greed” would end.

Waiting for a loan to fund that dream, she started work as a manager at the Space Needle and then worked at Starbucks corporate headquarters. Finally she quit, took her savings, and opened Café Reiki in Ballard. “They say, ‘Don’t die without the music in you,’” she said.

Unfortunately, she had ignored the “golden rule” of having enough capital for two years. The café closed. Tricia was heartbroken. She could have gone back to her family or slept on people’s couches, but, “I had too much pride to do that,” she said.

Tricia lived in a shelter for three months. Though she sent out more than 300 résumés, “I didn’t have the motivation to get another corporate job,” she said.

Tricia realized she had to get out of the shelter. “I couldn’t wait for second interviews and drug testing. Real Change was the only thing I could think of that you could have income immediately.”

It wasn’t easy. “I remember wondering if I would ever sell a paper. Slowly but surely I would get a dollar here and a dollar there.” Finally, she and her customers got to know each other. “Now they are people I adore.” Tricia sold Real Change at Zeitgeist Cafe in Pioneer Square.

The money Tricia made barely covered her rent. “But at the end of the day,” she said, “I have a place to lay my head.” Her goal was to get enough money together to “focus on my next career move.” Eventually Tricia landed a job at Whole Foods and left Real Change. But not before becoming a top seller and a Real Change Vendor of the Year in 2013.

Regarding her days selling the paper and living in a shelter, Tricia said she believes in a new paradigm in which there would be no homelessness or inequality. “The problem, it’s so easily solved. Be kind, be honest and be loving. I feel like I’m supposed to be a light on that corner [while selling the paper]. I stand in the rain, and I get that really great exchange with someone. It sounds corny, and I really don’t talk about it, but that’s my purpose.”


Sam Day has a studio at Seattle’s International District. He specializes in live-painting wedding receptions. He also does illustrations, story boards and event caricatures. His weekly cartoon “The Middle Ground” has run in Real Change for several years. You can see more work at