The Real Change Portrait Project


Michael Wiggins

"Michael Wiggins" Painting by Monica Holsinger
Michael Wiggins is a native Seattleite, raised on Beacon Hill. He considers Seattle his home and his community. The self-described “hippy” has also traveled across the United States. Michael says he went around the country, “to see if I could do it. It was pretty bodacious. America is fascinating. You can get a better view if you look at America from the ground up. You can get a feeling of our foundation.” Michael found himself in New York, New Jersey, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California and everywhere in between. He was amazed by what he saw and what he experienced; yet he felt compelled to return home to Seattle. Michael began selling Real Change about a decade ago, at a time when his life was spinning out of control. He was living underneath a bridge and was an alcoholic, but that all changed on a Nov. 28. The date sticks out in Michael’s mind because that’s when he finally got housing. It was at that time that his life started to change. Reflecting on his experiences, Michael says, “When you become homeless, the system does not recognize you: We become nobodies.” This phenomenon occurs all too often, yet Michael believes that part of what helped bring him out of the obscurity homelessness can create was Real Change. Michael emphatically believes that “Real Change plays a big role for people on the streets. It is a resource and an opportunity for homeless people.” He says, “Real Change can help you get an address.” Michael used services at Plymouth Housing to access resources necessary to get housing. Michael praises organizations such as Plymouth Housing, Porchlight, Real Change, SHARE—places that can help people. Michael tells me that it is places like these that keep an eye on people so that they can keep them from falling through the cracks of society. His belief in the importance of housing and people’s ability to improve themselves through housing is evident. “You want a stove, a bathtub, a bed, something of your own: That is what everyone wants.” He goes on to say that “You can actually get it together when you are housed, and I was able to discover that.” Michael is thankful to his customers, telling me that, “They make me. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be where I am. I have used what they have given me and put it forth to my housing, food, necessities, etc.” However, it is Michael’s positive presence and his ability to engage the people around him that has made customers so devoted to him. Michael downplays the impact that he has had on the people around him, saying, “I don’t know what I have done to make them do it, but I am going to continue to be myself. That is what has kept me alive and that is what has allowed me to see some very beautiful things.”

Artist: Monica Holsinger
Monica Holsinger is currently a student at Northwest College of Art in Poulsbo, enrolled in Photography & Graphic Design.

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