The Real Change Portrait Project


Jeff Bouck

"Jeff Bouck" Liquid Graphite on Paper
by Diane Stewart

When Jeff Bouck was a teenager, his father used to say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” every time they drove past the Ballard Bridge and saw people sleeping underneath. “He was letting me know that you’re always that close to being right there,” Jeff told Real Change in January 2009. Jeff passed away sometime last week. His body was found under the Ballard Bridge, according to those who knew him. He was 46. The cause of Jeff’s death has not been determined, but friends say he suffered from health problems and had been sleeping outdoors for years. A Real Change vendor, Jeff grew up on Queen Anne Hill. For 22 years he was married to Karen Pedersen, who passed away in November 2011 and who was also a Real Change vendor. Jeff and Karen had a daughter, now a student at Arizona State University. “Jeff lights up when he talks about her,” wrote Rex Hohlbein, who runs the Homeless in Seattle Facebook page, in 2013. The son of a sea captain, Jeff worked on fishing boats. While purse seining salmon in Sandpoint, Alaska, Jeff fell overboard, cracked his back on the side rail, then had to be fished out of the net. He herniated two discs in his back. It took nearly a year to recover from the accident, which left Jeff no longer fit to haul nets. At 41, Jeff — functionally disabled and out of a job — became homeless. A friend and longtime vendor told him about Real Change, so he decided to give it a try. He often sold at Trader Joe’s on Queen Anne. It worked out for him, he said, because it was like a business. Mat Vlasak, a crew member at Trader Joe’s, said Jeff got along well with customers and store staff. “It was one of the highlights of my day to come in and see Jeff hanging out in front,” Vlasak said. “We’d shoot the breeze.” Jeff was always looking out for others, Vlasak said. ”

Once, when the wind blew milk crates all over the alley, Jeff pitched in to help Vlasak clean them up, saying fishermen believe in teamwork. When he saw Vlasak hurrying during a busy period at the store, Jeff, an avid sports fan, told Vlasak he reminded him of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, the way he scrambled to get things done. Jeff was open about his struggles with alcohol, according to Hohlbein. Drinking was a way of life in the fishing industry. In the spring of 2013, Jeff was referred to Homeless in Seattle to see if the community could help him with scabies, the itchy skin disease that was making his life miserable. Through Homeless in Seattle, a number of people offered clean clothes and words of encouragement, and Jeff got treatment at a clinic in Ballard. At the Ballard Food Bank, Jeff was a regular. He showed up to pick up his mail and some food. “He was a very kind man, and gentle, and he’d been coming here for years,” said Mary Witter, who works at the food bank. Jeff’s friends, many of them homeless, set up a small memorial on a pillar under the north side of the bridge. “He was highly regarded by the people who sleep under there,” Witter said. Women in Black will hold a silent vigil for Jeff from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12 in front of Seattle Municipal Court at Fifth and James.

Artist: Diane Stewart
Diane Stewart is an artist who works in a variety of media. She began her art career 7 years ago, inspired by Al Mulkey's art group at Artists' Edge which meets weekly at each of their 2 locations.

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