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, 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.

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.