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, March 31, 2006

Lunch with Debbie Coppenger, Operation Nightwatch Portland

Operation Nightwatch started with ministers in the late 60's going out on the streets of Seattle to practice a ministry of presence -- just being with the people in the bars, shelters, and streets.

As those ministers moved on, they took the Nightwatch concept -- and the name -- with them. So we see Operation Nightwatch in Tacoma (RIP), Portland, Spokane, San Jose. Other places too, perhaps.

Yesterday in my travels I got to meet with Debbie Coppenger, director of Operation Nightwatch in Portland. What a great time.

Debbie has a social work background along with a lively faith in Christ. She has brought new vitality and stability to the program. Check them out at

We're walking to lunch, and about half the homeless people in Portland hollered out "Hey Debbie!"

It's a good thing. Pray for all who minister in the night.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wisconsin Trip

Ok, without getting into the reasons why, I find myself in Appleton.

I tried running this morning -- it was 10 degrees, with the wind chill. My face hurt, it was so cold. I could only run for 10 minutes, retreated to the hotel exercize room.

Obviously there are no homeless hanging around here.

But the bar culture is amazing -- somehow the drunks hold it together to keep working. Lots of guys do nothing all winter, go back to work in the spring. Seems like there should be work here, but the locals tell me they're getting laid off, a mill is closing. Those jobs are hard to replace.

I spent some time in a neighborhood bar, the Wishing Well. There was a woman's dart league or something. One of the ladies gave me a token for a free drink. Yes. I still have it.

Drunks are drunks whereever you go. One guy told me I should quit the hotel (already paid for) and come stay at his place. Then he offered to drive me back to Chicago. He went out the side door for a smoke, and I think his fiance chewed him out pretty good for his off color kidding around. I didn't think it was too bad, but definitely disrespecting her (his explanation of missing teeth had something to do with her prominent anatomical features.) Anyway, I took my opportunity for escape.

Won't be back to the streets of Seattle for a few weeks. I miss it. Keep in touch. Rick

Friday, March 10, 2006

Pike - Pine Survey

Brother Dave & I needed to do a little research in the Pike-Pine neighborhood, so despite the freezing windy weather, we hung outside for most the night.

The first homeless guy we met was a hoot. "Tommy Salami" he called himself.

"What do you call a cow with no legs?" he asked. His answer, "Ground beef."

It got better. He had a 25 line street poem he recited, another moment I wish I was carrying a recording device. He and "Candy" hung out in a doorway. Takes his showers in detox, gets food from Central Lutheran and Covenant Church and used to eat at "the Wall" before that was shut down. Has not found his way to First Presbyterian for the public feed yet. He had an empty can of malt liquor, and derided his own lack of self control. But he's not ready to give up yet. He tries to take care of Candy, but the main attraction is more body warmth. We provided blankets and some snack items, pretty weak for the real need.

Ran into "Jewelry Guy" who tried to get us to pay five bucks for a decorated love bead. He was really smashed, just outside the little neighborhood grocer that sells the fortified stuff. He took the two bucks from Dave, but wasn't happy that we weren't buying his product.

Then we ran into a grouch sitting on the sidewalk in the rain. Started cussing us out for offering him a blanket. Not sure what his incoherent stuff meant, but felt sorry for the entire neighborhood. We could walk away, but what if you were trying to sleep? What a mess.

Another 1/2 block and met "Dave" panhandling smokes. He had just moved into the Wintonia, a low income building a few blocks away. Not really sure why he was hanging out on a cold night, maybe looking for something more than a cig. Since Brother Dave smokes, they had a drag together. There was real amity for a few moments, and he genuinely wanted the conversation.

The shop keeper at Belmont and Pike thought the homeless crowd had moved north to Denny/John. But we didn't see much evidence of it.

Spoke at length with a junkie at Seattle Central Community College. He was waiting around to sell a banana seat style bike, we suspected to his connection. He complained about the lack of treatment options. He said there were a lot of folks in empty houses near Broadway playfield. Can't believe there are many empty houses in this gentrified area.

On Broadway we ran across a few others, mostly too drunk for conversation or already dead asleep in doorways. Probably saw about 10 or 12 homeless folks in the area. The only common thread was access to rot-gut fortified beer/wine or their drug connections. When asked why they don't go to Pioneer Square, they offered that they didn't like the vibe. One guy said he didn't want to go to shelter because he can't drink or get rowdy.

Upon return, I reminded the Nightwatch staff that there was a whole group of homeless folks who can't get it together to even get to the dispatch center.

Also, we checked in at 3rd and Bell (closed early) and Dravus Street bar (slow after the drug raid over the weekend). The funniest thing that happened was that "K" -- slightly crazy maybe not sure coffee drinker may be a cousin of Brother Dave. Does it run in the family?

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dispatch Center

Most of my fun happens out on the street, but the bulk of what happens at Nightwatch takes place at our shelter dispatch center. Takes a crew to make that happen -- Ann in the office, Paul & John the night supervisors, security guys Theo, Jeff, (we're one person short there) and backup Billy.

Last night I stayed late to greet volunteers, and had a good time talking with homeless people as they came in.

Our worker Paul was running the front desk with volunteer Sylvia. They do great work. At the door Jeff was checking for referrals, making sure people coming in were supposed to be coming in. Volunteers from St. James Cathedral had made sandwiches -- a crew was dishing up soup (Paul's handiwork tonight).

A guy in a wheelchair got some extra attention -- he and caregiver got a hotel voucher from us for one night, with instructions on getting into DESC tonight. Won't be able to do that any more.

While greeting guys in line, several said hi. One was the son of our fixit guy; I think the son actually painted a room for us a few years ago. He's so focussed on spiritual stuff he can't take care of the day to day routines that would get him off the street.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Street Stories for 3/6/06

A quiet Monday night. Guess that is why I like Monday best.

Made my usual rounds. NO was empty at the bar. The Restuarant was fairly busy but didn't stay long. Short hello to waiter I have met.

Went to K. and always have good contact there. Knew most of the people there. Met a new fellow who was quite drunk but was still beating every one at pool. Good talk with R. who hangs there a lot. Place began to busy about the time I left.

Had bowl of Gumbo soup at 2B. No contacts. with anyone there.

5P was busy but going to get real busy as soon as concert at "The Key " got out. Made a quick stop at NL and good talk with my friend F.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Testamonial at Third & Bell

It was super quiet at Dravus Street bar last night -- didn't do much more than greet a few patrons. Woody was working on Milk Maid's laptop, trying to fix it. Hope it goes well. Continuing to pray for her peace of mind following her mom's death at 92 a few weeks ago.

We had a good laugh, because last Thursday I drank a cup of coffee and left without paying. About 1:30 a.m. I called her at the bar and apologized, but tonight she wouldn't take my money so I paid a buck tip for a glass of water.

Didn't stay very long, really dead.

At MFQAB Father Kim got corralled by "Cutie Pie" who has been packing around an Easter card for him since last year. Now that it's the 2nd day of Lent she finally caught up with him -- she doddered out to the car and got it out of the glovebox. He didn't look at it all night, which I found a little amusing. I was curious, wondering if it was similar to the one she gave me.

Talked to J awhile, greeted some others, the one guy, most amazing. Shoots one handed pool and he shows up at the bar when he isn't working. Told him I'm looking for a pt security guy, but it conflicts with other work, and I think he's not interested.

Made bad error of judgement tonight -- there was a pair working on crossword puzzle, and they were stumped. They shouldn't have left it in front of me, I went through it pretty quickly, didn't completely solve it, but about 75%. It was conceited of me and I just pray it didn't leave a bad taste in their mouth. Have to trust God about my lack of judgement. I just felt bad as I left, the show-off priest.

At Third and Bell had two good conversations. One with an Amtrak worker (retired) who knew all my Amtrak friends, and was very excited about it (D.B. was his name, hope I can remember).

Then, as Third Gospel was closing up the bar, this nicely dressed younger man told us how much he appreciated us being in there. He said he used to come to Nightwatch when he was homeless, how much he appreciated the treatment he received, the food and shelter that he got. "If it wasn't for Nightwatch I'd probably be dead." He knows he needs to deal with his drinking, but he also knows God loves him and has blessed him and that Christ lives in him. We thanked him for his encouraging words and encouraged him to live in faith and do the right thing.

As we walked back to the car at the end of the night, I told Father Kim that I wished we could have taped the testimony. It was very moving, and should make everyone associated with this work feel pretty good about it.

Thanks to all of your for your prayers, support and hard work on our behalf.
Love, Pastor Rick.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Homeless Man -- 107 years old!!!???

We've got this homeless guy coming into Nightwatch looking for shelter. Every night we write down his birthday: "1899"

Wait a minute. That would make him 107 this year! How can that be? Ann & Rick want to know. One of our workers, Paul says, "That's what his Washington State ID says. We checked it."

Dang. The guy doesn't look a day over 95.