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, 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.

To donate: www.seattlenightwatch.org

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jumping Jehosephat!

I was complaining to Jim about not remembering names. He's a homeless camp member. He says, "You should use adjectives, like 'Jumping Jim'"

"Great idea!" I tell him. I'm looking around at the other campers. "Mad Max, Dizzy Dean, Loud Lily." They look at my companion, Greg. Everyone thought for a moment, and one of the campers suggests "Grateful Greg."  This was a God-moment.

On the way to the camp, my friend Greg had said how completely grateful he had been feeling lately, thank to his new approach to living, and the opportunity to express care for others through the work of Nightwatch.

Now, what are the chances of that? A Word for the night.

Weaving and Bobbing

At five minutes to midnight, the last customer comes in the door, sporting a 3-day-old black eye."Montoya, you see a doctor for that yet?" Kevin asked. "Oh yeah, it's all right," Montoya assures us.

"Montoya, were you weaving and bobbing?" Kevin persists. "Yeah man, I was weaving, for sure. But I didn't do any bobbing."

"You got to bob, bro."

At midnight, we're all out on the sidewalk, and Montoya is still hanging around, happy for a few moments of peaceful conversation before heading off for shelter. He looks at me with his one good eye. "You gave me your card," he reminded me.

Of course. I remember you Montoya. The first night Deacon Sam was on the street with us, we put our hands on you at your request, and prayed for wisdom and strength.

Got to remember that, when you're weaving and bobbing through life. Or at least, weaving through life.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Hoyt R Booth Jr, 1960 - 2004



Hoyt R. Booth Jr.  b Oct 9, 1960, d Feb 23, 2004  Rest in peace, friend.


Hoyt was a homeless client of Operation Nightwatch. That sounds so clinical. Hoyt was a friend. When Operation Nightwatch was located in Belltown in the 1990s, he would wander in, looking for a meal, a blanket, or shelter. His gentle drawl and earnest desire to rise above his affliction is what I miss. His own behavior was as mystifying to him as it was to the friends and neighbors who kept an eye on him and helped him out.


I encountered Hoyt years later, a panhandling fixture on 15th Ave E in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Now, to call Hoyt a  “panhandler” may make him sound like a ne’er-do-well, a con artist, a bum. I never thought of him in these terms, and the people that knew him in the neighborhood did not either.


There was a gift store in the neighborhood – Tildens -- which sold nice dishes, fancy cards, home accents. It was family owned, unpretentious; my go-to place when I was on the hook for birthday, Christmas, or wedding presents. The elderly couple who owned the shop found out that I worked with homeless people in Seattle. I sort of braced myself – thinking they were going to tell me how homeless people in the neighborhood were wrecking their business, and all that. Wow, was I wrong.


They were loyal friends of Hoyt. They thought of him as “their” homeless guy. They asked if I knew Hoyt, which of course I did. They spoke about his polite and gentle ways, and how broken up they were about his inability to control his drinking, and the toll it was taking on him. They understood alcoholism as a health problem rather than a moral issue. What they said next absolutely floored me at the time.


“There’s some new homeless guys moving into the neighborhood, and they’re making it tough for Hoyt because they don’t care about anyone else. What can we do to get rid of the new guys, but keep on helping Hoyt?”  That’s how much this shopkeeper in a small retail area thought about Hoyt. He was “their homeless guy.”They took umbrage that their guy was being pushed out.


See, Hoyt was a worker. He picked up after himself. He wanted to help in the ways that he could. Plus, he would describe the particulars of his former occupation (roofing), and how much he wanted to get back to it. This alarmed me – I know he was an end-stage alcoholic, and imagining him in his impairment getting up on a roof was frightening to me. He told me that he even wanted to write a book about roofing. Yes, it seemed like a delusion at the time he told me – but still, I think it revealed something of his heart.

For several years I wondered what happened to him. It seems impossible to me that he has been dead for 11 years. For a time I couldn’t remember his last name, and then like a bolt out of the blue it came to me. I’ve been working with homeless people for 20-plus years, and I’ve forgotten so many names, but Hoyt stood out. I guess if there was one thing I would tell his family, is that Hoyt was a lovable guy to the end, that he felt things very deeply, that he was afflicted with the terrible disease of alcoholism – he wouldn’t have wished it on anyone. He made his own small mark, and I wish we could have done more for him.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Small moments


Sometimes the best moments are the smallest of all possible moments; a mote of a distraction and you will miss it.

I was walking through a dark, cramped warehouse of wretched flesh. What did I feel? Anger, pity, sadness, all of that. God, don't let me get hard-hearted.

I moved carefully along the wall through sleepers and snorers and those observing private moments.They lay on mats held together with duct tape, covered with gray wool blankets.

In the darkness, barely visible, a homeless guy saw the pastoral garb of my trade, a clerical collar, in the dark hallway. He flashed me a brilliant smile, and gave an enthusiastic double thumbs up, as though I was the one who needed encouragement on this dismal night.

It was a shocking sign of hope. Sleep well tonight, friend. Better times await us all.

Lord, give us eyes to see, and hearts to respond, to those small moments every day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Investing in the future



One advantage of staying so long at Operation Nightwatch:  I get an occasional blast from the past.
At a church on a recent Sunday afternoon, a grinning face popped up. “Remember me?”
Not immediately, no. It has been 17 years since that face was last seen at Nightwatch. But within a minute of our little reunion, “Matt” and I were hee-hawing about the olden days. I remember Matt as a quiet, vulnerable, depressed guy, someone who was overwhelmed with everything going on around him, overwhelmed by life itself. He remembered our consistent care, plus one wild ride in the Nightwatch van through downtown Seattle at midnight, getting him to the shelter in time.
Thanks be to God, for the Nightwatch donors and volunteers from seventeen years ago. Because they gave each month, Matt was able to survive. They probably didn’t realize it, but they were investing in the future; Matt’s future. Because they gave, he got into an apartment, dealt with his problems, and now plays a part in a church community. 
How about you? Are you investing in the future?