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.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Don't Want to Be Here

My good friend Dick Shipe was hit and killed on the way to work. I did NOT want to be riding herd on a bunch of knuckleheads at Operation Nightwatch twelve hours later. I needed time with family and friends, time to reflect on a lost friendship.

About 10:00 p.m. I was fed up to here.

I marched out on the sidewalk and stuck my finger in the face of some galoot named, ironically, Richard.

"What makes you do this every night?" I asked him, my sorrow and anger boiling over. This guy was smart, street savvy, and aggressive. At least with the little guys.

Richard pulled me away from his friends about 15 feet. "Pastor Rick, I'm dying of testicular cancer, and I want to die a man, on the street."

Suddenly I realized that we were co-travelers through the pains of life; he was grieving, I was grieving.

I apologized for embarrassing him in front of his friends, and told him about the death of my friend.

Richard laid his hands on my shoulders and said, "Pastor Rick, I'm going to say a prayer for you." He prayed for my comfort, the comfort of the family who lost a loved one, the tenderest of prayers.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"Ronnie" kisses me

"Ronnie" was about the homeliest, smelliest, loudest homeless guy at Nightwatch in our Shelter Dispatch Program. Every night he'd come in, juiced up and mouthing off. The shelters wouldn't take him from us any more because of his wild behavior. He seemed incapable of controlling himself. I'm sure he was used to having people yell at him daily, so I started whispering.

"Ronnie, you can't talk that way here," I would tell him, and he would whisper back "Okay!"

One memorable night we had conned some new shelter worker into taking Ronnie off our hands. He was standing in the middle of a room full of homeless guys with his pass into a shelter, and a big crooked grin on his face.

"Pastor Rick, ain't I beautiful?" he asked me.

I realized that every person in that room was waiting to see if I was going to lie to them. I didn't disappoint.

"Sure Ronnie, you're beautiful." Yeaah, he's in the image of God, right?

"Then hug me."

I recoiled inwardly, not wanting to get close this smelly guy, and I tried to get next to him to give him one of those friendly used-car-salesman hugs around one shoulder, but he turned toward me and threw his arms around me in a huge bear hug, his 6'2" bending down over me, his rough cheek pressed against mine, the smell of cheap booze and smoke and BO wafting over me.

Then he kissed me on the cheek and went off into the night. It was a God moment.

I was patting myself on the back about the good thing I had done, until a little nagging voice asked me a question.

"Who was being the ugly one in that situation?" I realized that I had wanted to keep Ronnie at arms length, keep him away from me. He, on the otherhand, threw his arms around me with glorious exuberant joy. I was the one who was being ugly.

Help me love everyone with Your uninhibited joy!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Out of Control

I walked into a bar on Wednesday night and immediately some woman covered her face. Why? I don't know. (Maybe I just have that effect on people.)

Her friend cut in on her, started talking my ear off -- angry, beat up by life. She's Navaho, had a bad family experience. She trotted out her spiritual pedigree -- it's one of the most common reactions to seeing a minister in a bar. I'll sit down, and immediately some guy will say "I used to be an altar boy, thought about being a priest, grandma took me to Sunday School, I went to Catholic grade school," etc etc etc.

My Navaho friend talked about sage grass and visions and other Navaho practices. But this was no exchange or conversation. She was angry at life, angry at me, just angry. I let her run with it. I did not say a word. Finally, she ran down, and asked me what I thought about it all. "I'm just here to listen."

She was amazed. That was the last answer she thought she would get. She wandered off to another patron.

Now I could turn my attention to her friend, the woman who covered her face when I walked into the bar.

She too, shared some of the pain of her life -- homeless, separated from loved ones. But at the heart of her sorrow was remorse and repentance. We had only a few moments together, but as I was leaving she asked for me to pray for her.

I put my hand on her, and said a prayer, but I used her street handle "Coyote*." She quietly interupted. "Use my Christian name." So I blessed her and sought God's help for her, using her "real" name.
*all the names and aliases are changed in this blog.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Death in the Family

"Jane"* lost her second cat of the summer.

If you aren't a pet owner, you may not know how it is for people who love cats, or dogs. Rabbits. Whatever.

Me? I don't have pets -- when would I have the time? But Nightwatch has a cat; big, fat, spoiled rotten by our senior tenants. He's smart -- opens unlocked doors. Catches flies. Talks to us when he needs something.

I'm still missing Heidi my parents old weiner dog, ca 1972 to 1986. I'd come home and there would be a weiner explosion. I was dad, mom, and rich uncle rolled into one.

So, even though I haven't had a pet since Heidi, I understand the place they come to play in our lives.

That's why I'm sad today for Jane.

Losing one cat this summer was bad enough, but this week her only other cat got sick. She took him to the vet, but when she got there it was not breathing in the back seat.

I'm sitting in the bar, and listening to Jane's grief, and thinking about Heidi, and knowing that the sense of loss and sadness is very real.

So today, my prayer for Jane is that she will heal and find peace and that God would bring another four-footed friend into her life.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Here I am before the Chicago Marathon, 2003 Posted by Hello

Guy in the Alley

Some guy was laying down in the alley. Not that unusual for homeless person, you're thinking? Yeah, but this guy was in the very middle of the alley, smell of piss permeating the air. The city would send a street cleaner through several times a week, blowing sudsy water around. It didn't help.

So here was some guy in the stinky alley, in the middle of the day. I was going to have to step over him

"Hey, are you all right?"

He opened one eye, lifted his head. "I'm good." But I could see a string of melted gum sticking to the back of his head.

It seems like such a good idea to get homeless people to tell us what they need. But like many people, homeless or not homeless, we don't always know what we need.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

First Fight

I was driving up Jackson Street today, and saw "Ralph" making a deal at a bus stop. He's still alive after 10 years, which is something of a miracle.

Here's how we first met.

It was my third day on the job as director of Operation Nightwatch. I was sitting at a desk in our little storefront located at 1st and Wall in Belltown, just a few blocks north of the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Suddenly I heard the sounds of a fight, right outside my glass front door. Ralph, who is small, wiry, and African American, is swapping punches with some tall white guy, right in our entry.

This was something new for me, white bread suburban boy. Emergency! Emergency!

I ran over to the phone and called 911.

"There's a fight, two guys going at it, 2415 1st Ave!" I am shaking and breathless talking to the dispatcher.

"Is anyone hurt?" she asked. I looked outside again. Ralph and the other guy are still on their feet taking big wild swings and occasionally landing one.

"I guess not, they're still on their feet."

"Are there any weapons?" she asked. I looked again.

"Just fists," I told her.

"Then call us back." Click.

I decided I was going to have to do something myself. So I went out onto the sidewalk. Here were the two fighters on the ground next to the curb. By this time Ralph was sitting on the bigger white guys chest, popping him in the cheek with his fist, but not that hard.

Leaning over them both, I said loudly, "HEY, KNOCK IT OFF!" Ralph looked up at me, standing over him in a clerical collar (you know I'm a minister right?) and he immediately jumps off the guy.

The two combantants are surrounded by their friends. The "loser" staggers away with two buddies consoling him. Everyone around Ralph was patting him on the back. "Way to go, that guy was drunk, he was picking fights with everyone, whatta pain in the neck."

I thought to myself. Here was a drunk white guy picking a fight with a bunch of homeless guys, and if the police had come they would have seen Ralph sitting on the guy's chest trying to sober him up sorta. Then they would have arrested the wrong guy. So I figured it all worked out for the best.

Just another little tidbit from the streets of Seattle.