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Pay by App in the Works for Real Change Newspaper

Paula Wissel
David Rice sells Real Change on the corner of Third and Madison in Seattle.

The lack of actual cash in our pockets is putting the squeeze on vendors trying to sell the Seattle street newspaper Real Change.

Real Change founding Ddrector Tim Harris says vendors, who are homeless or low income, are hearing customers say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money.”

“We think it’s more than people putting them off; we think people aren’t carrying cash with them," Harris said.

Real Change is turning to technology for a solution. In an era when even a candy bar can be purchased with a credit or debit card, Harris says he’s not alone in relying almost totally on plastic.

“The only time I get cash out is when I have to give my kids their allowances,” Harris said.

And, he says, like a lot of customers, that means he doesn’t always have the $2 it takes to buy a Real Change paper from a street vendor.

Harris sees our cashless society is one of the biggest threats to what has been a very successful model for improving the lives of the down and out. Real Change vendors purchase the paper for 60 cents a copy and sell them for $2 each.

Real Change has actually been working on a solution to the problem of for the past two years.

With the help of volunteer software developers from Google,  Real Change has come up with a smart phone application for the iPhone and Android phone that they hope to launch after the first of the year.

Real Change plans to share the technology with street newspapers around the world. Harris says things tried in other places just haven’t seemed to work very well. For example, in Chicago street paper customers can go to a website and use PayPal, but Harris found it too cumbersome.

In Sweden, a street paper actually handed out phones and credit card machines to homeless sellers, but Harris says that just didn’t seem practical here.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.