Street Stories

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

My Photo
Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Walking under the Interstate

“Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals." - Margaret Mead

Herb Dimock writes "Institutions do not serve persons; Only persons serve persons."

Interstate 5 is not an institution. It is concrete, rebar, steel. It has no soul. Yet, it may be the single biggest provider of shelter in King County. There is no human face for Interstate 5, just the cold, loud roar of machines, and tires thumping over expansion joints.

And beneath, from the trash, in passing, a spark. A stuffed toy, abandoned on the edge of a homeless camp - one of many camps in that dismal inhospitable place.

This toy asks us a question: Is Interstate 5 the best we can do for sheltering a human being who was at one time comforted by a stuffed bear?

Apparently so. We allow this to happen, because we have closed up our hearts, our minds, our homes, our churches, our parking lots, our parks, our public buildings. Surely we will reap the whirlwind.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gary. Carpenter. Vet. Homeless.

Gary. He was almost always a problem for our homeless program. All of his adult life he had been a veteran, a drunk, and a carpenter. When he came to Operation Nightwatch for help, we felt a sense of dread. What sort of nonsense would he pull on us next? Punch a smaller homeless guy? Rearrange the expletives? Jump to the front of the line? Pilfer goodies?

Then, one night, I ran across him on the street. It was about 1:00 a.m. He was parked on a bench along 2nd Avenue in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. For once, he was relatively sedate. I sat down with him, and let him talk for once, without worrying about anything.

He had survived Vietnam, and witnessed intense cruelty, inhumanity, and evil. It changed him. The images flickered in his mind, the loss of friends, blood and gore that are always a part of war; the only way he knew to suppress this horror was to numb himself with drugs and alcohol.

Usually, about now in my stories, I give some insight, a universal truth, a spiritual nugget.

Maybe my takeaway this time is this: killing people is a lousy way to protect freedom, ensure economic security (think how Vietnam contributed to runaway inflation in the 1970s), resist evil.

It seems to me like the person who resisted evil most successfully was willing to endure evil at the expense of his life.

Meanwhile, in honor of Veteran's Day, I will treasure my memories of Gary, and ask God to grant him Peace, in this life and the next.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Big Stick

Our landlord came into the office this afternoon. "There's a homeless guy we need you to check out. He's  hanging out in front of the building."

OK. I'm not that excited. Usually, the random homeless guy in the neighborhood is cooling off from downtown. Most of the neighborhood homeless guys aren't Nightwatch guests -- because Nightwatch guests know if we catch them in the neighborhood before we open, we won't help them. We open at 9:00 p.m. Show up at 9:00 p.m.

When the random homeless person wanders up from downtown and spends the night in a doorway, I try to gently let them know it's hurting our ability to help homeless people. I quietly and politely ask them to move. It usually works.

So, today I go check out the person. Wow. He's big. He's carrying a seven-foot long wooden pole, with a sharp piece of metal duct-taped to the end. He's standing in the middle of the sidewalk, glowering, menacing, and pounding the end of his pike into the concrete with force. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. And muttering to himself.

Back in my office, I marshal my resources. Outreach phone numbers, police back-door phone numbers. I look out the window. He's walking away. Stopping at Boren for traffic to clear. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk, his stick reverberating.

Keep him -- and the community -- safe, Lord. A homeless guy with a seven foot long pike is not going to have an easy night.

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Step it up

Hey, Preach. You for real? Listen to me, man.
I give good advice to everyone but myself,
Lord, don't I know.
I tell my friend what to do with his money,
Then throw mine away.
I need you to pray for me. Right now.
It's the right time. Use the right words. Pray.

 -- I pray for his wisdom and strength.
 Amen. You know what? This shelter is fine.
They give you food, and clothes, and a place to sleep.
But they don't give you nothing for right here.

His bony finger jabs his chest. Right here.
   - poking at his heart.
You guys are here on Thursday.
We love the pizzas and all,
but a man needs more than food.

Silently, he points to his heart again.
You gotta step it up. Once a week won't do.
Yeah. Step it up.      

Monday, August 25, 2014

Looking for a home

We’ve got the mats, the blankets, and the staff. But we are looking for a home. A place, overnight, where 80 guys, properly supervised, can collapse for the night, and try to get a new start in the morning.

For many years our  generous hosts have let us use their space overnight. This is coming to an end at the end of December.  We have to move.

This is what homeless people go through on a personal level, only worse. 

“Maybe a friend will let us stay.”   “Maybe we can double up with another non-profit.” “Maybe there will be a dramatic last-minute rescue.”

Then the somber adults start to ask questions. “What can you afford?” The answer is, not that much. Not in today’s over-heated real-estate market in Seattle. “You need to put together a funding proposal.” I looked with despair at the government forms, with unanswerable questions.  

I think about the fragility of life on the edge, which describes all 80 of our homeless friends who sleep in this shelter. For people with mental health issues, these changes are overwhelming. When you have nothing, and then even that is threatened, it can have dire consequences.

There are buildings out there. If you can buy us one, now would be the time. About 3,000 square feet would be nice. 

Prayers - and ideas - appreciated.

Monday, August 11, 2014


It was a single stroke of genius,
an oasis in a desert of a bungled day
when I decided
should be given to heat-afflicted homeless people.

Deacon Frank and I paraded around
a homeless camp,
no Pied Piper needed,
no out-of-tune tinny music on an endless loop
like the summertime daily attraction of my childhood.

Our homeless friends found us in all our abundance,
dishing out one here, two there,
and the numbers grew, another and another
and then the wave broke.
We stood around, finally,
talking survival, clutching our
thawing boxes,
happy homeless friends with
chocolate running down,
chocolaty lips smacking,
the delicate savoring
of the stick.

As we left, we offered the remains,
and found reluctant takers
one here, one there.
The last one offered is declined.
“I’m fudged out!”
and we laughed together.

It is as it should be for all of us at times.
That abundance.
You may not have a roof over your head,
you may be overwhelmed with life
you may have a really crappy day,
but then

Friday, June 13, 2014


Last night at midnight

  we looked into the face

       of a homeless wretch --

    a man, living in total subjugation

        to his primal disordered brain.

With hurricane force

   he spewed raw anger,

     screaming irrationally at those

       who want to help, but can’t.

There is no shelter to contain him.

     No options. In any program. Anywhere.

Until he throws a punch,

    pulls a knife,

       jumps out a window,

he is free to wander through the night.

His name is Legion. We have seen him before.

He is gathering strength.

God bless those shelter workers

who persevere
in the face of Belial.