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, April 28, 2006

Occidental Park, Seattle

Finally: Dogboy

Tonight I finally figured out who Dogboy is. He gave me my quote for the night.

We were talking about fitness and running:

"I used to run, until I coughed up a cigarette butt and a bottle cap. Then I quit."

Dogboy is a frustrated drummer. His brother the guitarist is with an internationally known rock band (I won't say which one). Dogboy is funny.

After talking to him, I spent the rest of the night in another bar, up on Queen Anne, My Favorite Queen Anne Tavern (MFQAT) . The reason I use fake names, I don't to get anyone in trouble; if you narrow down the possibilities and figure out the person I'm talking about in this thing, then they hire a lawyer and I end up in Sing Sing, black-balled.

It was actually several nice quiet conversations at MFQAT. Nothing rowdy. Decided to make a semi-early night of it (short changed 3rd & Bell), returned to Operation Nightwatch before midnight, hung out a little (OKAY, I ate an apple fritter, boo hoo), watched the final mop up of homeless people and got to bed. The deal is, I went to a prayer breakfast, left the house at 6:30 a.m. after getting to bed at 12:45. Phew.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Helper

So now when I go out to speak I'm taking a neighbor with me -- my friend the Messiah (kind of a mean nick name now that he knows better -- but that is how he introduced himself to me 18 months ago).

It really does help me to have the Messiah with me when I go talk. He adds an edge to what I talk about related to homelessness (he's not homeless, but a little obsessive about it -- not sure what his diagnosis is, but suffice to say he's out there). Plus, he is an extra set of hands for carrying stuff. He has always been very appropriate too, which is nice. Maybe I'll see if he wants his pic in the blog sometime.

So yesterday we were at a class at Seattle Pacific University ( and the teacher, very cool -- Delia Nuesch Olver -- interviewed me, and students asked questions, and the 90 minutes flew by. It feels a little constraining, but she wants to keep me in check -- it isn't a fund-raising effort. They actually need to learn something.

Tonight -- a bunch of old people at the Lion's Club, Rainier Valley

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You asked for it

Yes, fans, here is the long anticipated pic of Rick.
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Church to the Rescue

I was downtown for a meeting, dodged into 3rd & Bell (weird to see one of these in the daytime). Second Gospel behind the bar, like usual, and some of the usual regulars in the middle of the afternoon. Someone I knew :^) had to use the doorless toilet.

Standing there, suddenly R#2 (can't use his real name, in fact I'm not even going to use his street name because everyone will know who I mean) grabbed me and hauled me out onto the sidewalk.

"I went crazy, went to see my daughter, don't have money for rent." He waived a letter from his landlord showing how much he owed. It wasn't much, just over $200. "One of the churches is going to help some."

Now I thought about it. This guy is a pretty good guy, kooky, but good hearted. He wants to help homeless people. Do we really want him coming to the Nightwatch shelter dispatch for a mat on the floor somewhere?

I gave him my card. "Call me, we can probably do something."

The next day the pastor of the church called me. This is the second time in two months R#2 has needed help. Different reasons every time. The pastor is not going to walk away however. They're going to help R#2 with what he really needs -- some protective payee care, along with the check. The church agreed to help with the full amount. Wow. They think someone is preying on R#2. Could be. Thank God for faithful congregations and pastors.


Friday, April 21, 2006

April 21st Birthday

This day -- April 21st -- nevers go by without my remembering my friend Ron.

We were just a month apart in age -- good friends growing up. When Ron was 9th grade he started exhibiting signs of schizophrenia. By the time I was in college he was in and out of institutions, often times on the street, or living in a half-way house, or a commune someplace. Then in 1976, he disappeared, never to be seen again in Seattle.

For years his absence haunted me. Then one night I had a dream. Ron knocked on my front door and said "Look! I'm fine!"

I took it to mean he was in the presence of God -- and I haven't worried since.

But every once in a while I look at some homeless guy at Operation Nightwatch and wonder, what would Ron look like now, on his 53rd birthday? Behold, God is our salvation, I shall trust, and not be afraid. . . .
PS - Ron's parents volunteer for Operation Nightwatch.

Tribute to a Friend

We were best friends when we were little.
I stayed overnight at your house.
You stayed overnight at mine.
But 30 years ago you began hearing
What no one else could hear.
You saw things no one could see.
Then you disappeared down the highway,
Seeking relief from a tortured mind.

In my heart, I believe you arrived
At a place of rest and peace;
And I think you landed there quietly.

But I still see you in dreams,
And I still look carefully at each face.
I’m not the only one looking.
I’m not the only one remembering.
I’m not the only one with a loved one

on the street.


Maybe because it's the week after Easter (at least for Western Christianity) I thought about resurrections I have witnessed. Walt is one.

He was drunk when I met him in line outside Operation Nightwatch ( but he said something no homeless guy had ever said in 20 + years on the street: "Pastor Rick, I've determined that never again in my life will I own a lawn mower."

The next day he stopped by my office, and I invited him to move into our building as a tenant. This led to three months of hell.

Now if you have never seen someone toxic from alcohol, it is not a pretty sight. Walt proceeded to get drunk every day, blowing out effluvia from both ends. I found him wandering the halls of the apartment building draped in a towel, covered with BM from his head to his feet. And the smell cannot be described. We determined to clean out his room while he was in the hospital (he gave his drunken permission when the fire department hauled him away.) The load of excrement and carpet/furniture/mattress was so bad I had tears in my eyes tying down the tarp along the side of a windy freeway. Ok, enough grossness.

What happened next is also beyond description, a total God thing. Walt fell and broke his back.

He went off to Swedish Hospital, spent 30 days in traction and detoxed at the same time. He came back to a different unit in our building, a changed man. That was 6 years ago.

I had not heard from Walt in a few months (he had moved from our building into several different great places) and I was getting worried; I called his last housemate and his workplace to see if he was still ok.

So last night Father Kim and I started our night on the street with a visit to Walt's place in Ballard.

He looked amazing, and his apartment is really stylish. Hard to believe it's the same guy. He's working, keeping really busy with driving for a food bank, volunteering for Homeland Security duties with the Coast Guard Auxilary, an ambassador at the Woodland Park Zoo, and other interests.

When I am in a church that recites the Apostle's Creed ( and get to "I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body," I always will think of the resurrection of Walt.

Once you get a taste of that, you want more!

There's so much more I could tell from last night -- first night with two Fuller Seminary students, renewing friendships at My Favorite Queen Anne Bar after my three week layoff, and finally got the name of someone there I've talked to many times -- I'll call him Minor Prophet. Anyway, a good night, and home before one a.m. Blessings, Rick

Friday, April 14, 2006

Maundy Thursday in the Bar

Dravus Street bar filled in as the night went on. It was great to see Milk Maid -- she missed us the past few weeks (travel/sickness). Pastor Dave had good conversations with a few pool players -- though one was ready to take him home for a tumble. He extricated himself nimbly. I observed. This may be another good reason to stick together!

At MFQAT got to see all the regulars. J. said he had a dream about me: "Father Kim came in alone and told us you had died."

It's nice to be missed!

Tug Boat seemed a little distant. Didn't pursue conversation. We really didn't stay long, just long enough to let everyone know they're loved. Crossword puzzles were a topic of discussion, along with Easter. Nice talk with my Jewish friend, not practicing, but conversant.

On to 3rd and Bell. Pool was especially sharp tonight, R#3 was on his game, Rooster too.

One character named Eric was 86'd out of the bar and took his frustration out on the windows. They didn't break, which made him look even more pitifully inept. Nice to have plexiglas.

A young woman sitting near the windows decided to move up to the bar next to me during all the excitement. She was reading and underlining in a book, so I had to ask. She was a grad student at a local Catholic university. In one of the worst bars in town!

What an interesting conversation we had -- Catholicism, married priests, women in ministry, foreign languages (she knows five!). One guy leaned over to me and said something in German, then handed me $100 for the cause. It was one of the rare times I've gotten to use my miniscule knowledge of Deutsch.

We stayed to closing at midnight, and gave R#3 a ride home. We may have to rename him for the blog because I haven't seen R#2 AKA Danang in quite a while. Hope he's okay. He lives just up the street from the main office. He may have worn out his welcome at 3rd & Bell. Not the most popular guy around.

Met one other guy who was playing pool, and dang if I didn't immediately forget this name. It started with an R. Robbie? Ronnie? Nice guy. He had a clean joke for us:

Two rabbis in South America are arrested -- accused of being CIA spies, which absolutely wasn't true, but what can you do? So they're going to face a firing squad. First one, Sal, is asked "You want a blindfold?" No. Are you sure? "Well, okay." His co-rabbi Ira is asked same thing, "You want a blindfold?" No. Are you sure? I don't want it. "We think you're going to want it." No, I don't want the blindfold. Really, we insist, take the blindfold. "No thank you." You've got to take the blindfold. "No, no blindfold."

Finally Sal can't take it any more. "Ira, take the blindfold already, why make trouble?"

You had to hear the guy's Jewish accent. It really was well told.

OK, a blesssed holy week and resurrection to us all! Rick

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jim's Story

This came in the mail yesterday

Hi Rick, Ann, & Staff,

A couple of weeks ago my house was broken into & I was robbed . . . my first such experience. Initially I had typical feelings about it, lots of fear, anxiety, that creepy invaded feeling.

What took me by surprise was that I had very little anger -- rather, I found myself wondering about the thief. What was it that drove him to this? How desperate must he have been?

After many days of wondering "What can I do to prevent this?" and considering home security systems, blockwatch parties, etc, I got a Nightwatch bulletin. Suddenly I had an answer -- it seemed so basic, too easy. . . "Support people & places that help desperate people!"

I'm not saying that the people who come to you are a bunch of thieves -- only that I've had a taste, now, of what desperation can do to a person, what it can drive them to.

Doesn't it make sense to give them a hand? to help keep them from reaching that horrible dark desperate place? I think so.

I need to become a better steward for Nightwatch. Thanks for all you do! JB

What a lift to get a letter like that in the mail. What a great attitude. Having been robbed, it's not easy to deal with. One time I chased a guy out of my house in the middle of the night. God bless you JB! Rick

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Working the Desk

Ok, we're down a worker, and so I've got take my turn with Ann and John covering the dispatch desk.

The night supervisors dispatch about 120 people out to various shelters in downtown Seattle. Last night I got my training run; we didn't have enough shelter for women. It was really tough at the end of the night to turn 5 women out onto the street with a bus ticket and a blanket. They looked like your sisters/aunts/mothers. It really is wrenching.

Winter shelters for women closed at the end of March. It's the same every year for the past 12 years that I've been in this position. When the city funded shelters close for the season, they dump 25 or more women out into the system, which can't really handle the excess. We called everyone in town between about 10:00 and midnight, trying to wring out any extra space. No go.

Think about it. No place to go, in a city that is debating the construction of another playground for millionaires, this time basketball.

God, deliver us. Pastor Rick