Street Stories

Weblog of Seattle minister to the homeless Rick Reynolds, Operation Nightwatch

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Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

Caring for human beings seems like the best use of my time, homeless or not.

Friday, April 29, 2016

They all have names

Every homeless person has a name. They came from some sort of family. Every homeless person has hopes, dreams, and stories to tell.

Last night I ran into a guy I've known for almost 20 years. He used to work at Nightwatch. He hasn't been able to work, due to a health problem. Last night was his first night of being homeless in a tent community. "Frank" thought our chance encounter was proof that God was looking out for him. How could I disagree?

I mean, what are the chances?

Then "Frank" said something I've heard pretty often: "Don't say homelessness can never happen to you."

Homeless people: They all have names. We all have names.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

The instructions for Ash Wednesday: Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

So I'm pondering my mortality. It's not hard to do, at age 62. I've been walking a lot lately (no car!) Which gives me extra time to feel the world under my feet, along with the various aches that can creep into the bones.

I felt compelled to observe the passing of two more homeless people in Seattle with a group called "Women in Black." I stood at the corner in my clerical collar and handed out flyers in the drizzle, trying to inspire people to care. They seemed tuned in on lunch and didn't really want to see a clergy person handing out anything.

The exception was a formerly homeless woman, who was quite enthused about what we were doing. She also felt very motivated to tell me about her "sin" which she feels bad about. "I've quit everything, and now I need to quit this satanic tobacco."  I told her I'd pray for her.

"Would you pray, right now? And so, the two of us prayed, with pedestrians streaming by and downtown traffic doing its thing. Serenity, Wisdom, Strength. My prayers are starting to meld into one repeated ideal which fits everyone's most basic need. In Jesus Name.

She smiled sweetly and we wandered away. Pretty sure they don't use cigarette ashes for Ash Wednesday, but isn't that an appropriate thing to ask for on this day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rest in Peace, Dick Spady

I was at a men's breakfast at a church in Bellevue. It was a rather small group - maybe 15 men there, enjoying french toast and bacon, and listening to my homeless stories. After the breakfast, a gentleman introduced himself to me.
"I might be able to help you," he said. "My name is Dick Spady. Have you ever heard of Dick's Drive-Ins?" From that moment on, Dick has been providing fresh cheeseburgers to homeless guys at Nightwatch, three times a week, roughly 360,000 cheeseburgers by my rough calculation.
At some point, they started collecting cash at the windows, which Dick matched and divided between eight different charities - well over a million dollars given away.
This community is grieving today. May God bless the family, Dick's Drive-Ins, and all who mourn his loss.

Monday, November 09, 2015

No Simple Stories

I’m learning that there are no simple stories,

but each one is like layers of mattresses, stacked to the ceiling. We pull

off one, then another, then another, then another

and finally, maybe at the very bottom

there is a single pea.

There are no simple stories,

but one Russian doll, nested inside another, nested inside another

until finally, with a magnifying glass and tweezer

the last doll is revealed, with an atom

of ash on its cheek.

There are no simple stories

as anyone peeling an onion can tell you,

carefully pulling back the paper skin

and layer by layer working your way down

to more onion.

Today is all about those onions, those tears.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I didn't look

I didn't look.
Stopped at the end of the freeway ramp, 
on my way,
I didn't look at the person
standing by the side of the road 
with a sign.

I didn't see him, not at all.
Not looking is second nature these days,
when someone is asking for help by the side of the road.
And so, I did not look.
No need for the shrug, the nod, the single index finger lifted off the steering wheel
or the wan half-smile of acknowledgment, lips pursed.

But dang, that red light was a long one,
and finally, I looked.
It was a real human being. "Hey, I know that guy!"
I rolled down my window. We shook hands.
"I hope you don't think less of me for doing this," he said, ashamed.
   "Not at all, bro," I assure him.
Red light turns green, and I go on, circumspect.
How could I not see him? My homeless friend.
I just didn't look. Shame on me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

First glance

There's always some suspicion when we go visit folks on the street. "Are you a cop?" was the most common question I faced - when I was young. Funny, they don't ask me that now. Must be the paunch and the gray hair.

Some nuts are just harder to crack.

"K" has been around in the homeless community for years. We helped him at Nightwatch, and I've seen him literally hundreds of times at various other places we visit. Usually we get a nod out of him, or he says a few words. "Thanks for the pizza."

A few weeks ago he especially voluble, for him. He got out of his spot in the corner, where he sits, reading. He actually came and got some pizza from us while we were still at the shelter. (He usually waits until we're gone.) But this week, amazingly, he stood at the counter, looking at me.

"I didn't know you were a minister," he said.

After five years and hundreds of encounters, it finally registered.

Low-impact care. It's what we do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Who should we ignore?

Things were going to be rough, I knew it.

It was late, and my friend "Saul" needed a visit. his whole life has been one gigantic struggle. Blind at birth, abandoned by family, raised in foster care, turned loose in the world at 18. Saul is afflicted with mental health and alcohol issues.

My co-minister tonight had never met Saul. I tried to warn him.

A the door, Saul was wearing the exact same clothes as the last time I saw him -- maybe five weeks ago. I flipped on the light, and the cockroaches scattered. Fifty beer cans were strewn across the floor. It was as bad as I've seen things in fifteen years of being Saul's friend.

It would be easy to ignore Saul and his mes. But it occurred to me: Jesus didn't turn his back on anyone. Who would Jesus ignore?

That process of marginalizing people, of saying that certain people don't matter, is at the root of the human problem. It dehumanizes all of us. It leads to chaos and murder like we witnessed, inflicted on our brothers and sisters in a Bible study in Charleston.

We must care for the marginalized in our communities.  Please don't turn away.

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