Hoyt R. Booth Jr. b Oct
9, 1960, d Feb 23, 2004 Rest in peace,
Hoyt was a homeless client of Operation Nightwatch. That
sounds so clinical. Hoyt was a friend. When Operation Nightwatch was located in
Belltown in the 1990s, he would wander in, looking for a meal, a blanket, or
shelter. His gentle drawl and earnest desire to rise above his affliction is
what I miss. His own behavior was as mystifying to him as it was to the friends
and neighbors who kept an eye on him and helped him out.
I encountered Hoyt years later, a panhandling fixture on 15th
Ave E in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Now, to call Hoyt a “panhandler” may make him sound like a ne’er-do-well,
a con artist, a bum. I never thought of him in these terms, and the people that
knew him in the neighborhood did not either.
There was a gift store in the neighborhood – Tildens --
which sold nice dishes, fancy cards, home accents. It was family owned,
unpretentious; my go-to place when I was on the hook for birthday, Christmas,
or wedding presents. The elderly couple who owned the shop found out that I
worked with homeless people in Seattle. I sort of braced myself – thinking they
were going to tell me how homeless people in the neighborhood were wrecking
their business, and all that. Wow, was I wrong.
They were loyal friends of Hoyt. They thought of him as “their”
homeless guy. They asked if I knew Hoyt, which of course I did. They spoke about
his polite and gentle ways, and how broken up they were about his inability to
control his drinking, and the toll it was taking on him. They understood
alcoholism as a health problem rather than a moral issue. What they said next
absolutely floored me at the time.
“There’s some new homeless guys moving into the
neighborhood, and they’re making it tough for Hoyt because they don’t care
about anyone else. What can we do to get rid of the new guys, but keep on
helping Hoyt?” That’s how much this
shopkeeper in a small retail area thought about Hoyt. He was “their homeless
guy.”They took umbrage that their guy was being pushed out.
See, Hoyt was a worker. He picked up after himself. He
wanted to help in the ways that he could. Plus, he would describe the particulars
of his former occupation (roofing), and how much he wanted to get back to it.
This alarmed me – I know he was an end-stage alcoholic, and imagining him in
his impairment getting up on a roof was frightening to me. He told me that he
even wanted to write a book about roofing. Yes, it seemed like a delusion at
the time he told me – but still, I think it revealed something of his heart.
several years I wondered what happened to him. It seems impossible to me that
he has been dead for 11 years. For a time I couldn’t remember his last name,
and then like a bolt out of the blue it came to me. I’ve been working with
homeless people for 20-plus years, and I’ve forgotten so many names, but Hoyt
stood out. I guess if there was one thing I would tell his family, is that Hoyt
was a lovable guy to the end, that he felt things very deeply, that he was
afflicted with the terrible disease of alcoholism – he wouldn’t have wished it
on anyone. He made his own small mark, and I wish we could have done more for