Real Change Goes Digital — No Cash, No Problem

By Paige McAdam


Note: We’re pleased to welcome to our team Paige McAdam, a Seattle University political science major. Because Paige has a special connection to Real Change, we asked her to attend the April 16 launch of the new smartphone app that customers can use to buy their copies of Real Change. Here’s her report.

The first time I bought an issue of Real Change News was in 2012. The concept of providing a source of income for those experiencing homelessness — while also creating content based around economic justice issues — immediately dazzled me. I became a contributing writer a few weeks later, and have been an avid reader of the paper ever since. Today, Real Change made history, entering what founder Tim Harris calls “Real Change 2.0.”

Conversations with Vendors

I try to buy the paper every time I grocery shop at QFC, and enjoy the interactions that I get to have with Richard, who can be found near Broadway and Pike in Seattle on any given day. Anyone who spends time in Pioneer Square will probably mention Robert, the Real Change vendor on 1st and Yesler, who is always open to conversation and a good game of catch with his football. These interactions often make my day, and my experience as a Seattleite would certainly be less rich without the friendships that I’ve made with vendors.

Real Change was the first opportunity that I had to really have conversations with those experiencing homelessness in my community, and that is exactly the point of what they do. The paper creates conversations between vendors, readers, and community members, crossing the invisible lines and boundaries that can often separate us from one another.

The only thing that often impedes me from buying my paper from Richard each week is that I, like many others in this day and age, very rarely carry cash.

The New Real Change App – “We Are Pioneers”

Today I was thrilled to attend the launching of the new Real Change app, which allows readers to purchase a digital edition of the paper through scanning a QR code on their vendor’s badge. The app is currently available in the Google Play store, with an iOS version coming up very soon.

Real Change vendor Gabriella Duncan shows the QR code on her badge that customers can scan with their phones. Photo by Lisa Gustaveson.

Occidental Park was buzzing with excitement, and several vendors excitedly made their first digital sales.

Steven, a Real Change vendor, made his first digital sale at the event (and sold out of his print editions as well!) Photo by Paige McAdam.

Real Change founder Tim Harris spoke at the event “We see a time 10 years from now when probably half our sales or more are going to be digital,” he said. “We were pioneers when we started the paper 21 years ago; we are pioneers now as the first street paper in the world to have a cashless option to deliver a digital newspaper to our readers.”

“More than a Financial Transaction”

The transactional convenience of the app is significant, but the app also serves the purpose of creating even more interaction between readers and their local vendors. Rather than following in the footsteps of other publications and providing a digital subscription service, this app continues the Real Change legacy of starting conversations in the community. It allows readers to form relationships with their vendors just as easily as they do when paying with cash.

Tim Harris echoed this sentiment, saying: “What this app does more fundamentally, on a more human level, is it creates a new way for people to talk to each other. It’s those conversations between readers and vendors, those relationships that get built, that are transformative and are the heart and soul of Real Change.”

Real Change App
The new iOS version of the app is coming soon. Photo from

What makes the new Real Change app so special is that it is simply a mediator to make transactions easier for readers, and to help increase the sales of vendors. “It is not just a financial transaction, it is a social interaction,” said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, one of the speakers at the event.

Joe McDermott
King County Councilmember Joe McDermott and Real Change vendor Shelly demonstrated how the app transactions work. Photo by Paige McAdam.

Relationships in a Digital Era

For me, that’s what has always made Real Change so special. It is well-written and often eye-opening for me, and I have learned more about economic issues in my community through Real Change than from any other source. Beyond that, I have also had the opportunity to get to know some truly amazing people who I might not have met otherwise. It is thanks to Real Change that I became involved in homelessness advocacy, and established relationships that I am sure I will cherish for years to come.

Lisa Tweet
So many people were sharing the event on social media, like this photo from our colleague Lisa Gustaveson (@lisagustaveson). #nocashnoproblem is the hashtag for the app.

As Tim Harris said today, this app brings in a new era of Real Change, which he referred to as Real Change 2.0. Technology and the digital age hold huge potential for homelessness advocacy, and Real Change is tapping directly into that potential with their app. The future of Real Change is brighter than ever, and the potential for increasing conversations in the community has never been larger.

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