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.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

How things change

Two months ago she was sleeping in her car.

Six months ago she was in homeless camp.

A year ago she was in a transitional housing program.

"Despair" reaches a point where you can't even recognize that the tide has turned, and things are starting to go your way. She couldn't work because of health problems, truck problems, personal problems. How can you even go to work when you don't have access to a shower, or a real bed to sleep in? And all of this happens while the skies are pouring down on you.

But now.

But now, today, her big problem was hanging her television on the wall of her very own apartment. There was no light, and her stuff littered this brand new apartment in a brand new building. Just in time for the brand new year.

Grant wisdom and strength.

Friday, November 22, 2019

In the cave

I was at Roman Miller's funeral service yesterday. Very inspirational. A story was told by his brother-in-law.

They were young guys in a group of people who were exploring a cave system in the Ozarks. Roman and his brother-in-law decided to go on, while the others were done. The two were crawling along a tight passage and the brother-in-law got stuck.

At this point in the story, I remembered a similar situation, many years ago, at Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho. Vast tunnels of cooled lava become interesting caves to explore, At certain points there were "passages" where we could squeeze through, wriggling on our stomachs for an indeterminate distance, and eventually we'd pop out - hopefully -- into a larger space, where we could stand up. I remember being pressed pretty tightly in absolute pitch black darkness. Flashlights were of little use because there frankly wasn't anything to see. My skinny little teenage son was considerably more comfortable than I was at that moment, with my, ahem, barrel chest and middle age waistline.

So Roman and his brother-in-law were in this tight passage, in the dark, only the brother-in law couldn't wriggle his way forward or backward. And Roman was right behind him.

I'm hyperventilating thinking about it.

Roman started pushing on his BIL's feet, and he was able to lever himself ahead with that help. Roman then pulled on the foot to bring himself forward. And so they extricated themselves and stood up in a vast vaulted cavern, a place where the flashlights would matter.

It's a good metaphor for a redemptive life. We don't have perfect sight along the way. We find ourselves stuck at times. But we have the opportunity to spur one-another into a better place.

We need those moments, especially in tough times. With God's help, and the encouragement of others facing the darkness with us, we can stand together in a new and better place. We need each other.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Too funny

Theological question came up. "Catholics like a crucifix, reminds them of Christ's suffering, Lutherans like a plain cross, reminds them of the resurrection. Which is better for dealing with vampires?"

A good fight

We are like boxers,
You and I
Battered, bloody in our corner
One eye puffed closed
All sweat and spit and tears.

The battle is not over
We wait for the bell that
Calls us back to it.
But for these moments in the corner
There is rest for the soul.
Coach to trainee
Whispers encouragement
The fight is not lost,
Take a breath.
You are tougher than you think

You can take a punch
It staggers you
Only for a moment
You wipe the tears and sweat from your eye
And leap back flailing
Not a punch in anger
But the gentle blows of love,
Joy peace patience kindness
Goodness, gentleness, faithfulness
And perhaps the trickiest finesse move of all
Self control.

Through every round shouts of encouragement –
Because there is a trainer who cares for you
And a Manager who loves perfectly well.

“There’s no quit in this one”
a confident voice comes to you
low, through the raucous din.
You bob, you weave, you fall back,
Up again in a moment.
No quit. Not this time.
Accusers at ringside jeer
“Nothin’ left! Give it up!”

You go on.
You won’t quit.
You fight a good fight.

Ruby Label - Rest in Peace

The earth spins around. Sunrise. Sunset. We build. We tear down. We build, and tear down again.

The Skid Road of the 1960s is barely discernible any more. The Skid Road Community Council is gone. The First Avenue Service Center is gone. Eskimo Sam gave way to Gooey Duck Frank to another guy who's name has not yet become memorable.

Our civic memory is short-lived. Not many people remember Ruby Label - a fixture at his pawn shop on First Avenue. There is a clip from a movie about Nightwatch that was filmed in 1970. It shows Ruby Label sitting with one of the Skid Road denizens of that time. He says something like "This is Robert. He's a human being!" and every time I see that clip I tear up.

Ruby Label (Reuben Label) 1918 - 2014 עליו השלום.

The Messiah Returns. Visit #394

May 20, 2004, Nightwatch got a visit from a diminutive Asian guy. He wasn't homeless, but somehow he knew about us. He was helping an elderly African American women get into shelter. At that time he said "I know it may sound strange, but I'm the Messiah."

Well, hmm. "Maybe you're a disciple?" He decided that would do.

This launched a long-time friendship. I got to know his family. I helped him with various projects. I assisted him when his mental health problems led to homelessness. And though he's moved out of the neighborhood, I still see him on a fairly regular basis.

You've probably seen him too, in his wild costumes around town. Yesterday he was dressed up in a combination of Chicago Cubs gear, and the Stay-Puff marshmallow man from Ghost Busters.

It was entertaining watching people do a double take as he walked around Starbucks and the Lake Forest Park Town Center.

Being with the Messiah is a good reminder that the thread between being homeless and not being homeless can be very thin. There are plenty of people with mental health issues who are not homeless, and who have drug and alcohol issues but aren't homeless. The central problem is expensive housing, and poverty.

Getting people inside will help stabilize all our homeless friends.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Apparently some folks in local government came to see one of the homeless programs after hours. It must have shook them. Some funding has been restored. It wasn’t our program, so I won’t name them.

There’s something about looking into the faces of the people being served – old, physically worn, disabled, broken. This will clear bureaucratic fog, to meet some homeless people at 10:30 at night.

Tell us what to tell homeless people at the end of the night at Operation Nightwatch when there is no more shelter in the city. “Where can I go?” they ask us, as we hand them a blanket and a bus ticket.

It’s a question I’ve been asking for 20 years, and still don’t have a response. Why should anyone be sleeping outside when we have buildings empty and heated overnight? Inconvenient?

Too bad.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Some things are easier to fix than others

I was talking with a homeless friend recently. She didn’t want pepperoni pizza – so I was curious. “Vegetarian?” No, she said. Sore teeth. Yikes. And she just started a job this week – not easy to do when you’re sleeping on a mat in a wet tent.

Have you got a plan for dealing with your teeth? Not yet.

Hey Pastor Rick you got any bus tickets? “No,” I say, “but maybe we got some back at Nightwatch. Sometimes people give us some that aren’t restricted.”

I’m standing there in the cold night air, a drop of water dripping down my back every so often.

Give her your Orca card.  Okay, that’s good. Here’s my bus pass – it has about $35 on it. You can get to work and back for a week with that. That problem is solved.

Write down what’s going on with your teeth and I’ll check with my dentist. Maybe she can do something for you.

I can’t imagine living in a tent. I can’t imagine commuting from the suburbs for an entry level job. I can’t imagine living with tooth pain without an end in sight.

But, dang it. I can do something about the commute problem. Dental work and housing are next.