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, September 16, 2016

Lost family member

Homeless people are attached to their pets, just like the rest of us. When a dog dies, the whole camp suffers.

But what happens next is tragic. How can you properly dispose of the much-loved remains?

Last night someone in a homeless camp asked me if I could help in any way with the cremation. "Let me find out. Call me in the morning." I had to think about it. I got no idea what a cremation for a pet would cost. And wouldn't it be better to spend that $100 (or whatever) on the human needs I'm facing every day?

I started musing about the importance of pets to people who have lost nearly everything: home, jobs, friendships, sense of self-worth. But through thick and thin, a dog will provide comfort, loyalty, structure, and some level of accountability even though the rest of a homeless person's life may be spinning out of control.

The grief is real. I have to help. 

Friday, August 19, 2016


In internet slang SMH means "Shaking My Head." It  what we instinctively do when we see or read something that is inconceivable.

Today I was with a lovely group of community-minded people in a suburban community. The average age was probably 75 - and I may be low, because there were a bunch in their upper 80s. They were a very appreciative audience for my talk about homelessness.

I told them about Nightwatch - my typical night. Last night I took fudgecicles to a homeless camp. One of the homeless guys was a white collar worker, and assured me that this being homeless will never happen to him again. He said he will have his own place on the first of the month. "But it sure won't be in this neighborhood," he exclaimed. "Those places over there," he gestures toward the south - just a few blocks away from the camp. "Those places cost $2,000 for a one-bedroom." SMH.

Then I told the room of octogenarians that an average rental unit in Seattle, as of July, 2016, goes for $2,179 a month.

All of a sudden, a room full of old people were "SMH."   In unison. It's just unbelievable.

Monday, August 08, 2016


At Camp United We Stand, Shoreline, WA

The art of balancing a life beset by odd angles
of poverty, illness
domestic violence
bad brain chemistry
poor nutrition
lack of sleep
humiliation, sorrow, PTSD, addiction, learning disabilities,
social anxiety
bad luck;
more than I could contend with. And it is understandable when the whole thing comes tumbling down. But God bless the artists in camp who set up a demonstration, keeping things in balance against all odds; God bless them for setting rock on rock even after they all tip over again.

Grant us all the balance we need in this brief life O Lord.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A friend's hand

In the fading twilight, my friend's hand lies, gray and still.

Alive, yes. Hanging on weakly, brought low too soon.

I sit nearby as he slumbers, singing softly the songs of Zion, from long ago.

Does he hear? I cannot tell, but maybe he does. Would he remember these tunes we sang together as young men, seeking the Divine Presence in the company of other earnest young believers? I cannot know, I can only sing.  Awakening, he speaks my name. Yes, I am here.

Soon, I continue with other duties - bearer of pizza and joy to shelter residents, companion to still others.

We are all dying. We all need to take a hand of someone near us. Doesn't matter if you live in a house or a tent, everyone will end up in a scene like this someday. What will matter to you in those final moments?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It gets personal

Twice in the last month I've run into people who are friends of mine. They are guys who have celebrated holidays at my house, volunteered at Nightwatch, ate lunch with me numerous times.

When I encountered them in their new situation, it was shocking. Immediately, my anxiety level went up. I find myself fretting about how we can help them.

One needs medical attention, but has to agree to it. The other could easily live in my basement, if I already didn't have someone there.

When homelessness hits close to home like this, it really changes our perspective. And, of course, when it happens to you. . . yikes. I'm told it changes you forever.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Stereotypes? Nope.

Two weeks ago I returned from my Thursday night rounds, visiting homeless camps and shelters. It was about ten to midnight. At Nightwatch, all the homeless guests were fed and sent off to shelter. There was one last guy – a young man – sitting at one of the tables, pouring over a math textbook. He’s doing algebra problems. He cackles as he figures one out.

I’ve been working with homeless people for more than 30 years. This was a first for me. Who does algebra at midnight? Of course, I had to ask about it.

The young man responded to me. “I’m planning to transfer from Seattle Central to the UW next year. I found out I can study math on my own, take the test, and then I don’t have to pay for the class, but I get the credit.”

And with that, he closed his book, and walked off into the night, going to a nearby shelter funded by Operation Nightwatch donors.  He will sleep in a crowded room with 74 other men.

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.