Tag Archives: Real Change

‘Sounding the deeps of his nature’ — Remembering Ted Jack

By Israel Bayer, Staff Writer

Ted Jack was a simple man. He lived a very complex and hard life.

Born on a boat off the Alaskan coast into a youth spent in orphanages, Ted ran away from a world he would never speak about. He was all of eight years old. Learning how to look after his needs at a very young age and not to rely on others, Ted lived a life few human beings could ever imagine.

Ted did what many young men and women have done throughout the centuries when faced with surviving in the world without an education and a family safety net: He learned the life of a fisherman. Continue reading

The full four-part series on domestic abuse: Gravity of Abuse

Photo by Kate Baldwin

“The gravity of abuse: The personal toll of domestic abuse,”  grew out of a three-month 2010 Seattle University fellowship to study family homelessness in Washington state. The fellowship was funded by the Gates Foundation. All quotes, thoughts and feelings of individuals stem from interviews, personal correspondence, police reports and court documents. Research for the series lasted 22 months.

Part I: The gravity of abuse

Part II: Neighborhood Watch

Park III: No contact

Part IV: Three strikes

The gravity of abuse: Part III: No contact

All photos by Kate Baldwinw

The third in our series on one family’s struggle to survive domestic violence. Read the first two in the series here.

By Rosette Royale, Street News Service

Safe house

What if no one showed up?

In early October 2009, Brandy Sweeney stood outside a grocery store in an unfamiliar neighborhood, her belongings gathered around her feet, her three-day-old son cradled in her arms. Someone was supposed to meet her there and drive her to a safe place, but the person hadn’t arrived. So she waited. Two minutes, three minutes, four. Continue reading

Collect Calls: Talking about the cutthroat world of debt collection

By Rosette Royale, Contributing Writer

Working as a debt collector, journalist Fred Williams discovered the extreme tactics collection agencies use to cage the rights of those in arrears

Here’s a confession: In my younger days, I was an unrepentant shopaholic. I lived in Maine, working at Colby College, my alma mater, and twice a month I would drive 70 minutes in my brand-spanking new 1990 VW Golf to the outlet mall in Freeport. Ralph Lauren, Cole Haan, Wilson’s Leather, L.L. Bean. I tore a blue streak through those stores, rarely stopping to consider that my desire to look good was overshadowed by my ability to pay to look good. My favorite purchase from 20 years ago? A pair of tan suede-cordovan brown leather saddle Oxford shoes with brown metal eyelets. Cost: $195.

I don’t have a clue where those shoes are now, much less anything else I bought. But you know what I still have? Memories of the nauseated, heart-thumping sensation I got when a debt collector called. Because, with a salary of $18,500, purchasing a $65 raw silk tie adorned with ring-necked pheasants on a field of light purple fabric ain’t a wise idea. But I had VISA and American Express and others, so I reveled in my privileged membership and charged everything. And didn’t stop until my unpaid credit card bills, close to $5,000, went into collection, and the debt collectors came after me. Things got so bad, I wouldn’t even answer my work phone, for fear the ring heralded someone wanting the money I owed.

Finally, after years of running from my past shopping sprees by changing phone numbers and addresses, I realized I had to pay those bills. So I worked, mailed in meager checks every month and, somehow, cleared up the debt. To not have to avoid a phone call — what joy. But I often wondered, listening to their messages, what it took to be a debt collector. How in the hell could someone be so mean on the phone? That’s why I wanted to speak to Fred Williams.

Not that Williams is mean. On the contrary, he’s affable and accommodating. He also worked as a debt collector. To do so, he left his journalism job in upstate New York and in 2008 spent three months calling people on the phone, asking them to pay off their debts. He did so honestly — he wasn’t undercover and never lied to customers — but he did have an objective: to see how debt collection works on the inside.

What he found led to his 2010 book, “Fighting Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices: Know your Rights and Protect Yourself from Threats, Lies, and Intimidation.” Along with providing an intriguing narrative about what a debt collector’s day looks like, Williams also offers sound financial advice, such as how to read a credit report and how to negotiate a debt settlement. Since the book’s publication, Williams has appeared on CNBC’s “On the Money” and ABC’s “Good Morning, America.”

Williams no longer works as a debt collector. He’s now an editor with a financial news service called SNL Financial, where, he said, “We get a lot of calls for Saturday Night Live.” And while most people wouldn’t consider debt a laughing matter, Williams spoke compellingly, and with humor, about deceitful debt collectors, the cutthroat work environment, the unhealthy ties between collection agencies and credit card companies, and what consumers can do to stop those abusive calls. He launched into it all before I even asked him a question.

“So I was a reporter at the Binghamton Press, and debt collection is a pretty big business around there, for whatever reason. And we’d hear from people who had been called by them, saying they’d been threatened that their house would be auctioned out from under them or they’d be put in jail for reneging on debts. So I got the impression these businesses were using pretty harsh tactics. And of course those are illegal tactics. But without really getting inside the industry, the companies would just say, ‘Well, there’s always some bad apples, and people don’t want to pay their debts, so they make complaints’ and ‘Well, once in a while, we’ll get someone who goes over the line, but we’ll terminate them.’ But the volume of the complaints that were coming in, and the way financial incentives were set up made me think that maybe it was more than that. That maybe the practices were really widespread. So, in order to really check that out, I finally had to leave the newsroom and take a job as a debt collector at one of the mainstream collection companies operating in the Buffalo area, to see what really went on.”

Rosette Royale: How was it to be a debt collector?

Fred Williams: It was not what I expected. Well, maybe some parts of it were. It was pretty easy to get the job. I went right in with my regular resume, my real name and 25 years of journalism experience. They asked me why I wanted to work there. I told them the truth, which was that I heard a lot about collection, and I wanted to see what it was really like for myself. Then there was a week of classroom training. Lots of young guys, a couple guys had a record, other guys hadn’t quite finished high school. The training was all on the up and up. It was about what the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act says, what the rules are, what you can and can’t do. So that was kind of impressive. But the training kind of skewed toward pushing the line of what you can do. Continue reading

The hidden epidemic: Medical errors are the leading cause of death in the U.S.

by Rosette Royale, Contributing Writer

I’ve got a friend, I’ll call him George, who, for several months, experienced an intense pain on his side. Turned out to be a kidney stone. George had dealt with them before and passed each one, with varying degrees of discomfort. But this time, no such luck.

Doctors determined that due to the kidney stone’s size — 9 millimeters by 7 millimeters, roughly the size of a raisin — it was too large to pass through his ureter, into his bladder and out his urethra. So they scheduled George for a lithotripsy, a procedure that would use acoustic shock waves to “blast” the stone to bits, the easier for it to pass. It was supposed to be an easy procedure.

It wasn’t.

Somehow, during the process, a tear developed in George’s kidney. Could it have been the result of stone fragmentation during the procedure? No one knows. But as a result, George lost two quarts of blood. Doctors worried about complications. George had to wear special “socks” to massage his calves, to prevent blood clots. He wondered if something else would go wrong. Luckily, it didn’t. And after spending several days in the hospital, he went home, where, for a couple weeks, he battled through waves of pain. A follow-up visit with a new doctor revealed that his urologist had prescribed an improper dosage of pain medication. His new doctor tweaked his medication. Finally, after a month, George seems to be on the mend.

Did my friend George experience a medical error? Maybe. It’s impossible to know. But the whole time I spoke with William Charney, I couldn’t stop thinking about George.

With 30 years experience as a health and safety officer in the health care industry, including five years as the safety coordinator for the Washington Hospital Association, Charney has become a vocal activist for health care reform. Recently, his attention has been drawn to medical errors, those events that occur in health care settings that impact patients’ health. By Charney’s reckoning, some of those impacts have deadly consequences. Through research he’s gathered, he believes that medical errors lead to more than 788,000 deaths a year, making them the leading cause of death in the United States. Continue reading

Where we’re going wrong in the immigration debate

By Adam Hyla, Real Change

Even as corporations embark on what has been called “a carefully managed facility migration process” (i.e., going wherever workers come cheap), migration by human beings is a subject still ruled by parochialism.

Most of the public discourse on the subject has focused on the situation of migrants once they’ve arrived at their destinations. On the left, humanitarians highlight the untenable position of those in the shadows. On the right, people talk of the moral consequences of entering through a side door.

Both sides, says journalist Jeffrey Kaye, fail to look at the cause of their argument.

Legalized or not, he writes in his new book “Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration,” (Wiley, 2010), migration is one fundamental aspect of human mobility. It’s a force at work in the Philippines, whose citizens fill one-third of the world’s nursing jobs — even as their home country’s hospitals crumble. It’s present in Morocco, where people from all over the African continent live in overcrowded conditions, waiting for a boatride toward the Canary Islands, and where an average of two bodies wash up daily along a shoreline patrolled by the European Union. It’s there along the United States-Mexico border, where stepped-up enforcement by federal agents and National Guard troops diverts, but doesn’t dampen, the economic pressure pushing Latin America’s jobless across la frontera.

“Despite the wishes of migration restrictionists, ancient impulses to escape hardships or to go in search of greener pastures are not going to come to a halt just because political lines have been drawn and laws passed,” writes Kaye, a freelance journalist and longtime reporter for the PBS NewsHour. “Build walls, and people will go over, around, or under them,” he continues. “Hire border guards, and smugglers will bribe them. Step up patrols, and migrants will find alternate routes. Provide better-paying jobs, and workers will get to them. Migration will not be stopped. But in the best of all possible worlds, nations should strive to ensure that migrants cross borders because they want to, not because they have to.”

A cultural re-examination of most American natives’ own family histories, says Kaye, might help them see illegal immigrants’ motives in a more sympathetic light. And national governments, in his view, need to get together and frankly discuss their policies, whether they are sending workers abroad or taking them in.

Adam Hyla: What do you mean by “coyote capitalism”?

Jeffrey Kaye: You know what a coyote is, right? A human smuggler. Someone who gets paid to take people across the border. They don’t really care about the circumstances, about what’s pushing people out or pulling people in, they get someone to where they’re supposed to be going and they get paid. It’s a term that refers to a global system of immigration, often and usually without too much regard for the consequences of migration or the effects on the migrants themselves. Continue reading

Sister street paper in Seattle is shunned by neighborhood association

March 29, 2010

Real Change, Street Roots big sister paper to the North in Seattle is being targeted by a neighborhood association not to move into their neighborhood. A letter from the Pioneer Square Community Association received by Real Change.

The Honorable Mike McGinn, Mayor City of Seattle, Seattle, WA 98104

Dear Mayor McGinn:

Thank you again for taking the time to tour Pioneer Square on March 18th. Pioneer Square community members were encouraged by your comments and perceptions of the opportunities and issues facing our neighborhood. We look forward to working with your office on an ongoing basis to help revitalize the District.

As we discussed, Pioneer Square has been a generous host to numerous social service providers in our community. However, the neighborhood is extremely under resourced and a “fair share” saturation point of services was exceeded years ago. This fact has been acknowledged and a moratorium on new or additional services has been in effect since 1998 with the publication of the Neighborhood Plan. Unfortunately, Pioneer Square finds it must defend this position time and time again.

Presently, Real Change is planning to relocate to the Historic District. There are heightened concerns within the neighborhood that representatives of this organization have not approached the Pioneer Square Community Association nor have they conducted any outreach within the District.

We realize there are enormous needs, especially in this economy, and further we recognize that many clients may not have any other resources at their disposal. We have strong relationships with service providers in our neighborhood who work with community members to address problems when they arise. That said; Pioneer Square’s economic vitality is impacted by the publics’ perception of safety issues which are exacerbated by line queuing for social service organizations.

The Office of Economic Development, with numerous community stakeholders, is conducting a review to find ways to revitalize this Historic District. In 2002, Urban Preservationist and Principal of PlaceEconomics, Donovan Rypkema, visited our community after the Mardi Gras reveling resulted in a murder the previous year.

At that time, several points were made by Rypkema that referenced street disorder and the neighborhood suffering significant negative perceptions regarding public safety. In December of 2009 Rypkema returned and reiterated the 2002 summary and questioned the lack of progress.

Within the past few years, the neighborhood was tapped to accept the expansion of existing service providers and to absorb the expansion of services at the Morrison Hotel during the construction of Fire Station #10’s Command Center. Legitimate assessments of the projects predicted long term, negative impacts in the neighborhood. As a result the overall perception of safety in the square has diminished.

The moratorium of the Neighborhood Plan needs to be upheld in this case. We feel it is imperative that service providers seek out other neighborhoods of Seattle that have not exceeded their “fair share” of services. We urge you to respect and support our position on this matter.

We would like to work with your office on this issue by setting up a meeting with Real Change, MaKensay Real Estate and our neighborhood organization to provide assistance to Real Change to find other suitable offices outside the District. As the proposed move of Real Change is on a fast track, we hope to hear from your offices as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Leslie G. Smith Interim Executive Director Pioneer Square Community Association

CC: Darryl Smith, Deputy Mayor Neighborhoods Phil Fuji, Deputy Mayor Operations Sally Bagshaw, Council Tim Burgess, Council Sally Clark, Council Richard Conlin, Council President Jean Godden, Council Bruce Harrell, Council Nick Licata, Council Mike O’Brien, Council Tom Rasmussen, Council Steve Johnson, Director, Office of Economic Development John Diaz, Interim Chief, Seattle Police Department Stella Chao, Director, City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Frank Buchanan, MaKensay Real Estate

Posted by Israel Bayer

West Coast stands together to tackle roots of homelessness

By Israel Bayer
Executive Director, Street Roots

The Western Regional Advocacy Project or WRAP (of which both Street Roots and Sisters Of The Road are founding members) is working to build a movement to expose the root causes of homelessness; challenge unjust housing and economic development policies; and fight the criminalization of poverty.

In 2007, the organization released “Without Housing: Decades of Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures.” More than 125,000 of the reports have been downloaded at http://www.wraphome.org.

The report has become a roadmap for policy makers, organizers, homeless and affordable housing service providers, and for social work departments, explaining how modern day homelessness arrived on our doorsteps in America over the last three decades. (An updated “Without Housing” report and “Without Rights,” a new report four years in the making on the criminalization of people on the streets is due out in 2010.)

For more than 30 years, the broader public has been led to believe that homelessness is a byproduct of individual deficiencies, born out of bad choices that lead to addiction, mental health problems and hopelessness. Disregarding the reality that homelessness is actually a product of a broken system – which includes the lack of affordable housing, access to health care and civil rights.

Continue reading


TRReid_bigFrom the Sept. 4 edition of Street Roots

Anger and taunting in the public forum. Accusations of fascism. Rumors of proposed government death panels — rumors that opponents of reform did virtually nothing to quell. Gun-toting men waiting for their congressional representatives in the parking lot. The discussion, if it can be dignified with that word, over the state of the nation’s health care system is scuttling along the slimy sea floor of American politics.

Which is why it’s an ideal time for some actual information. What is it costing us to look after our nation’s sick? Who pays — literally and figuratively — for the threadbare patchwork of American health insurance coverage, a system that drop-kicks 700,000 people each year into bankruptcy because they can’t pay their medical bills? That, because they couldn’t see a doctor, puts 20,000 more in the grave? Are we really faced with a choice between things as they are and that conservative bogey, “socialized medicine”?

For such apt questions, T.R. Reid’s book couldn’t hit the shelves at a better time. “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care” (Penguin Press) is a look at how wealthy democracies like ours — like France, Japan, Germany and the U.K. — provide health care, and the choices they faced as they constructed systems that are each unique but that all do a better job of keeping their citizens healthy, and they do it for less.

What do those countries have that we don’t? Each has decided that it has a basic duty to look after the health of its citizens.

Reid’s book would be just an exercise in comparative policy studies but for having busted his shoulder while in the U.S. Navy. A military surgeon had bolted the joint back together, but that was way back in 1972. “By the first decade of the 21st century,” writes Reid, “I could no longer swing a golf club. I could barely reach up to replace a lightbulb overhead or get the wine glasses from the top shelf.”

And so, “hoping for surcease from sorrow,” Reid takes his shoulder on the road. The result is a readable, informative, clearheaded look at health care elsewhere in the industrialized world, accompanied by the persistent questioning: Why not us?

Adam Hyla: When did you begin this book?

T.R. Reid: I’d like to say that in the spring of 2006 I knew that in the fall of 2009 our country would be obsessed with health care, but I really can’t say we planned it that way — we really lucked out. The timing worked out fine. I actually delivered the book a year late, and my editor was mad at me for being so late, but now I tell her I planned it like this. (laughter)

A.H.: Eighty-five percent of Americans tell pollsters that health care is a basic human right, yet so far in this national debate, that doesn’t seem to be very well-reflected.

T.R.R.: Yeah, every time we take on this issue the basic moral question gets lost in a discussion of winners and losers, hospital company profits and insurance company earnings. That’s always happened in our country. Every single country I visited made the basic moral commitment that every single person in our rich country who needs access to health care should have access to it. The richest country in the world has not made that guarantee.

I came off my ’round-the-world tour pretty optimistic; I think if we do make that commitment we can provide it for all, because all these other countries have.

A.H.: Why haven’t we made that commitment? Why are we so down in the weeds?

T.R.R.: I don’t know. I really struggle with that. With my book, I had three main tasks: to explain how other countries cover everybody at reasonable costs, and I think I got that; the other was to explain why other countries cover everybody, and I think I got that. That raises the question, why hasn’t the world’s richest country made this commitment? Continue reading

Seattle’s tent city to move to permanent location

NickelsvilleSeaOfTents-fullNickelsville, the Seattle tent city that cropped up last year in protest of Mayor Greg Nickels’ policies on homelessness, will move to a permanent location on June 5, according to its organizers.

Though they haven’t announced what the new location will be, Nickelsville’s organizers say the new site will have ten times the capacity of the church lot they’ve stayed on for the last three months.

The cluster of 155 bright pink tents first formed in September in South Seattle. The tent city has moved several times as the city and state have evicted them from public lands.

Last week, the city dropped criminal tresspassing charges against 23 people who were arrested at Nickelsville in October. Read more on the Real Change blog.

Street Roots’ most recent coverage of Dignity Village, Portland’s only permanent tent city, is now online here and here.

– Mara Grunbaum

It’s a great day for street papers

Thing 1: The New York Times reports on the growing interest in street papers nationwide, including Street Roots, Real Change in Seattle and Street Sense in Washington, D.C. Street Roots vendor Kevin Bynum and Managing Editor Joanne Zuhl are both quoted in the article, which ran in today’s business section.

The story focuses on the economic aspects of running street papers and the opportunities they provide for vendors, whose numbers are swelling across the country. But it’s also important to recognize the role street papers play in informing the community, which brings us to…

Thing 2: The Society of Professional Journalists has honored Rosette Royale of Real Change with an excellence in journalism award for a feature he wrote last year on a man who jumped to his death from Seattle’s Aurora Bridge.

Rosette did more than seven months of research for the three-part series, “The Man Who Stood on the Bridge.” He talked to Street Roots about the story last July.

SPJ’s national Sigma Delta Chi awards had over 900 nominees in 53 different categories. Rosette’s story won for best feature writing in a paper with a circulation under 100,000. The story is missing from Real Change’s website at the moment, but we’ll try to get a link up soon. (Update: The Seattle P-I has posted a PDF file of the series, which you can download here.)

Congratulations, Rosette and Real Change!

Posted by Mara Grunbaum

This week on the homeless front…

October 21, 2008

Tax credit crunch hits affordable housing in Oregon.

D.C. also hit hard.

In Ireland market rate housing is now cheaper than affordable housing schemes.

The USA Today reports “New homeless numbers alarming.”

The Housing Minister in British Columbia slams a court decision to allow people experiencing homelessness in parks. In the meantime, police say campers can expect early wake-up calls while the city appeals the decision. The debate in Victoria and Vancouver is raging.

The City of Seattle orders a new tent city encampment called “Nickelsville” to merge with the already existing tent city or face legal consequences. Read more about the emergence of Nickelsville from our sister paper in Seattle, Real Change.

Nevada tent cities rise in shadow of casinos.

Posted by Israel Bayer

Rosette Royale talks Real Change

To write this series, Real Change (Street Roots sister paper in Seattle) staff reporter Rosette Royale obtained close to 600 pages of documents from the Department of Corrections (DOC) through multiple public disclosure requests. Supporting documentation was also obtained through numerous websites. Interviews were conducted with more than 20 individuals, including family, friends, former prisoners, mental-health professionals, and DOC personnel.

Any quotes attributed to Bret derive from DOC documents where he was directly quoted by others, department forms written in his own hand, or letters he’d mailed. Thoughts attributed to him stem from descriptions others made of him, whether in interviews or as part of DOC documents.

Descriptions of Longview and Kelso, WA, the Lewis and Clark Bridge, the home of Nancy and Clinton Erckenbrack come from a one-day visit the reporter made to southwestern Washington. Descriptions of Twin Rivers come from two separate visits to the prison made this past spring and summer. Descriptions of the Capitol Hill hotel he lived in upon his release are based upon numerous firsthand visits.

Descriptions of the Aurora Bridge and surrounding areas are based upon multiple firsthand visits the reporter made to the site. Measurements of the bridge either come from various websites or were ascertained through measurements conducted by the reporter himself. Other descriptions of Bret or his environs are based upon the memories of those who knew him.

The narrative of the last moments on the bridge stems from interviews, a police report of the incident, and a “Computer Assisted Dispatch,” a transcript of law enforcement communication in relation to the incident.

The series got its genesis from a police incident report printed in the Street Watch column of Real Change last autumn. The entire reporting process lasted more than seven months.

The man Who Stood on the Bridge (Part 1: All around him, bridges)

The Man Who Stood on the Bridge (Part 2: Waiting, on the inside)

The Man Who Stood on the Bridge (Part 3: Home, it’s better than prison)