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.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

My Alien Encounter

He wanted instructions to the bus tunnel -- but we were on First Hill in Seattle, a long confusing walk for someone with bad English skills. Since I wasn't going to get home anytime soon anyway I offered to drop him off by one of the tunnel entrances.

On the way downtown I found out his name "Benigno." He is Portuguese, and has been here for over a year on a tourist visa. For most of the past 12 months he worked day labor jobs using a phony social security number. His employer caught up with him at the end of the year and reluctantly let him go.

How does someone survive without being able to work a regular job?

For now Benigno is sleeping in a camper/van loaned to him by someone in Tukwila. He is applying for hotel/casino work. He has high hopes, since he met another illegal Portuguese person working at such a place.

Later in the week we met so I could show him around town. Shelter, day program, work program. He is fluent in all the Latin languages. He is young and personable and clean-cut.

He came to the US naively believing he would be able to earn enough money to buy a house back home. Now he's stuck.

Do you think you know what homelessness is all about?

When we debate immigration policy, we have to figure out what to do with the Benignos once they're here, doing jobs most Americans don't want.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Joe: Still Alive

Joe came up to me full tilt, looking ragged and too excited to see me.

“You told me I wouldn’t die.”

My mind went racing for his name, a face, something to help me remember this guy and the conversation. Nothing.

“Remember?” he asked. “I told you I was sick of heroin, and wanted to get into a treatment program. I’ve been clean for three months now.”

Suddenly the light went on. “I was right! You didn’t die,” I pointed out. Joe’s face broke into a grin. “I was mad when you told me that, but it was the truth. I didn’t die.”

No one dies from quitting. Keep on living, Joe.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Fat Tuesday

So, last night was Fat Tuesday in Pioneer Square.

For the uninformed, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday) is the night before the start of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday. For Christians this is a season of reflection, repentance, and renewal, marked by giving up some indulgence -- like fat for instance. (Suddenly I'm regretting the bacon burger I ate for lunch!) I'm giving up computer games, and propose to myself to use the time for better and more productive pursuits.

Anyway, I spent the evening downtown with another minister, visiting a bar, hanging out on the sidewalk talking to revelers and greeting public officials who have also made a tradition of hanging out on Fat Tuesday, since the riot of 2001 and the death of a young man in a general street brawl.

Two construction managers for a major national company dominated our time and attention for over an hour. They were amazed that we were in a bar -- one thought it was an act of God. Before we showed up they were debating about the Trinity. The active Catholic guy was trying to explain it to his tipsy lapsed Lutheran. After hearing our explanation they were both satisfied and amazed.

In the course of this conversation a humble homeless guy presented himself with a hypothetical. "What if an out-of-work fisherman had no place to go for the night? Could something be done?"

Lutheran guy hands the enquirer $5, I made a quick call to determine the availability of shelter, and found him a spot in a shelter.

On the way to the shelter "Bobby" told a tale of woe -- out of control with alcohol, and worse, he doesn't think God wants anything to do with a "heathen like me." He is mourning the loss of his family, two sons were killed, one in Desert Storm in 1991, the other in Iraq last August. While he wept I prayed for him to have faith, and to find the strength to move one step closer to sobriety and wholeness.

After this dramatic moment, I returned to Pioneer Square.

Here were groups of men trying to induce women to show their breasts for the sake of a few cheap strings of plastic beads. Many of the young women were wearing provacative clothing. Not much needed to happen for them to be appreciated by the lustful crowds. Honestly, it wasn't very distracting. Most of the women walking around were women who frankly would not have garnered much male attention otherwise -- plain faces and rotund builds. I found myself repulsed but intrigued. Difficult not to look -- like watching a car wreck in some cases. One Rubenesque 20-something covered her face in shame as we walked past. "I've gotta go to confession!" she howled.

I was given a few strands of beads which ended up around the neck of our mayor and police chief.

A memorable night.