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, May 26, 2006

From Reverend Stinky Breath

Dravus Street bar was inhabited tonight, though the beer signs that Father Kim and I had turned on are now off again -- someone is undoing our fine work of last week. Milk Maid in the bar, laying down the law on Dogboy, who is hollering "I need -----" You, gentle reader, can fill in the rest, related to some arrested development, too much beer, and a fixation on female anatomy.

Despite Dogboy we had several interesting and productive conversations: "M" and the other "M" (sounds like a great name for a chocolate candy that won't melt in your hand) both were nice conversations. M1 is hoping to ship out as a deck hand on a fishing boat this summer, wanted help with his dental device which had broken. Gave him my card - one of the missions has a dental office, not sure if they can handle a partial bridge. He was pretty sloppy, shoved the card in a jacket pocket, bummed some smokes off Pastor Dave (Hey, that ploy works. I'm gonna buy a pack of Marlboros for the sake of the gospel). M2 revealed his deep Queen Anne roots -- lost a wife to heroin overdose. Sad. Nice guy, hope to catch up with him some more in the future.

Meanwhile Pastor Dave threw a couple games of pool. He had a good conversation. Guy said, "You guys are changing things in here," and Dave replied, "The Holy Spirit does that."

M2 also had to acknowledge that God was in the bar tonight. And M1 sloppily told me that Jesus Christ keeps him alive, despite the beer and abuse. As I write this I realize I shoulda asked him "Why." He was starting to get into his Pentecostal rap in a Missouri twang. Pretty charming.

On to MFQAT -- had nice chat with Train Guy -- always fun to talk to; "J" continues to melt away -- pretty awesome progress. We joked around a bit -- he was explaining something about some church he visited doing things differently than he grew up with, and I said something sarcastic about him being someone who is very particular about the places he hangs out in -- waving my arm around MFQAT. Bit of a dig. The dilemma is that hanging out there you get a sense of community, it's convenient for those in the Queen Anne neighborhood; but it's a pretty narrow range of human activity. I always say I need a crowbar to pry some folks out into the real world -- but that can be intimidating if you're new in town, shy, need the bolstering, whatever. There's got to be some amazing studies of the difference between American bars and British pubs.

Oh yeah. The "other" bartender tonight is not the Erudite One, but we shall call him "Red" and hope to use that cue to remember his real name. And the Grad Student too; maybe a reader will remind me of her real name, so I don't have to keep finessing it.

I'm missing a couple in this bar who used to stay out later, or maybe I was coming in there earlier. (Yes, that is it -- because we used to start at MFQAT -- until we added the Dravus St. tavern) I'll have to vary my schedule some week to see if I can say hi. I really liked them. They remembered my Luther quote almost -- and tried to say it back to me: "Sin boldly, and love more boldly still."

I smoked a cigarette in the parking lot with the guys at Dravus Street. It was the loving thing to do! g'night and love to all! Rick

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One Tuesday Night

Herchel still hanging in there.

After 17 years roaming, we got Herchel off the street in 1998. He moved into our building the next year.

Herchel was quite the worker for Nightwatch when he was able. He did it all: neighborhood cleanup, mopping floors, moving supplies.

His motive? "I made an agreement with God."

This photo is used with permission from Seattle Pacific University. For more on Nightwatch at their website

Photo by Mike Siegel

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Light in the Darkness

Things were pretty slow at Dravus Street bar for Father Kim and myself. We were chatting with Milk Maid, friendliest bartender in town.

"Is there some construction going on around here? They've got spray paint construction marks on the sidewalk. The owner didn't sell this place did he? What would happen if it closed?"

"It would be. . ." Milk Maid pauses, wheels turning as she contemplates the closure of this run down seedy place where she has worked for 25 or 30 years. "It would be. . . great!" and she smiled sunnily at the prospect.

She agreed that her bar was a little ragged. "Needs lighting," she pointed out. But a bunch of the beer signs weren't lit. Father Kim says "I think we can reach that one," and drags a chair behind the bar. Since he's probably 4 inches taller than me, he clambers up on the chair, then up on the back bar, reaches up and jiggles the gaudy neon Budweiser sign, while I flip the switch on the power strip, probably zeroing out the cash register. Suddenly, there was light! (Lite??)

So then we notice all the other unlit beer signs. This was our amusing work for the next 20 minutes; we got another one to work, figured out which were burned out or lacked an outlet, found junk thrown up on high shelves by impish patrons. Good deed done, we were off to MFQAT (My Favorite Queen Anne Tavern).

Here were 5-6 regulars, also a slow night. "J" talked about his continued self-improvements (yes, plural) and spoke hopefully of things to come. I talked briefly with several others -- good guys, all dealing with the usual things. Father Kim spent the entire night talking to one woman (can't remember the name I gave her for these purposes. Tug Boat Annie comes to mind.)

Tug Boat is waxing eloquent as only she can -- has the full conjugation of the F word down quite well. She was all het up about immigrants. "Let the MFers learn Fing English" which struck me and Father Kim as being hilarious -- plus the phrase "breeding like rabbits" was uttered and repeated. But bless her, she's been getting to church with son age 30, and she did buy our water last night, 2 bucks. I left a tip for the erudite bartender.

Hope MFQAT is making it.

Back at the home office, one woman was waiting for placement. I called in the coordinates for Tent City 3, currently at 22nd and Cherry. Hope she arrived on her one good leg.

God bless us, when a one-legged woman has to survive on the streets of Seattle.


These two stayed at a shelter sponsored by Nightwatch about 10 years ago.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Pastor Dave Unleashed

It's always amazing to me how you can have a perfectly crappy day, then go out on the street and realize how great you've got it really.

We sigh and moan because everything isn't 'just so' but against the backdrop of being homeless, hungry, unwashed, it's not so bad. Our problems pale against the obstacles face by our friends on the street.

Last night was a little goofy. For one thing, our Board president Tim J. and I were the cooks. He opened cans of beef stew and I whipped up some garlic mashed potatoes (yummy), and we waited for the volunteer servers to show up. Waited and waited. One guy was there at the opening, and one guy walked in after we opened. So President Tim covered the line while Pastor Dave and I hit the bars; Tim would call when he was ready to go.

Dave whipped a guy at pool (ok, except for the scratch on the 8 ball) and I had a nice talk with a few Dravus Bar people (email me for name and location). It's a tough bar, lots of little activities going on. Milk Maid in the bar, as nice as always.

Just before arriving at MFQAT we got the call to get Tim. On the way back downtown we decided to have me go alone to MFQAT (I dissed them on Monday night and felt bad) and so dropped Tim and Pastor Dave off at 3rd and Bell.

At MFQAT found the bartender and 3-4 regulars waiting for me, telling me I was late (it was about 11:00 p.m. by this time). It was fun, nothing very serious, except Minor Prophet (age early 20s) revealed too much MFQAT knowledge and I said something I think he heard: "You need a different hobby!" Hope I didn't hurt his feeling, but maybe we have enough history now that he can hear it. It's a matter of prayer -- he's too young to be sitting with a bunch of geezers and isolated from sober people his age.

I'll invite him to check us out sometime.

Although J has never done it. He continues to melt away amazingly. Congrats.

Plus the Erudite One behind the bar continues to amaze me. A few words were said about Russian authors and one sentence of plot, comes up with Kafka "The Trial."

If there ever was Team Jeopardy, Bar League, I do believe that MFQAT would clean up.

I jumped off the stool remembering my companions downtown; here I found Pastor Dave praying fervently at the bar with a woman in crisis, Tim talking to a guy with a cast on his leg, the bar stools up, and final final call. Gilbert was drunk and onery. I'm done with him after his performance last week. Told me he was going to commit suicide (not serious) -- told him that would make everyone sad. Wants to know how to be happy, told him to quit drinking. But I'm not going to engage with him if I can help it. He's crude and irrational when he's drunk.

Texas Dave wants to go to Nawlins and help Katrina victims, wants me to figure it out for him, told him to call today. We shall see.

Anyway, I was happy that Pastor Dave was especially useful in being the presence of Christ tonight -- don't know what good I did, but seeing him seriously counseling someone did me a world of good. Thank you Dave!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

WooHoo! Score One for the Home Team!

So, this morning The Family showed up again (see below). I had no idea they were coming to see me. Proof that there was confusion all around -- they were standing on the sidewalk outside of Nightwatch. Just standing there.

Ann discovered them almost by accident. They didn't know there was a door bell to ring. So they didn't tell me they were coming, they just showed up, they didn't ring the bell to the office -- a button clearly marked "OFFICE" right by the door.

What to do? It's 11:15 now, I'm calling back everyone I tried in the morning -- the Tigrinian community center, World Relief local office, the Family & Adult Service Center. There the worker said they take walk-in interviews at 11:30. She didn't sound hopeful though.

I asked them if they were hungry -- whipped up a batch of scrambled eggs, had some pastries (what a shock, Nightwatch with pastries on the premisses), whole milk (not past the pull date either) and some peanut butter and bread.

I realize they've only been in the USA since late February. Maybe peanut butter wasn't such a good idea. The eggs they ate using fingers until I realized it wasn't a cultural thing, but I forgot to give them sporks. My bad.

Then we cleaned up and hustled down to the Family & Adult Service Center on Third Ave. between Virginia and Lenora.

Walked in, and were still very graciously received, even with tons of confusion. The kids were ready to play with the toys they saw; we were hustled off to Kimberly J.'s office, where Pastor Rick and the two kids had English classes and recess (bouncing a balloon back and forth to each other). Kimberly dialed a phone number of a translator provided by the husband, nick-named "Z" by me today since his Eritrean name was six unpronounceable syllables, starting with a Z. The wife, Mulu, has an easier name. It took an hour on the nose to talk back and forth about expectations in two languages (it could have been more confusing; FASC had an Arabic speaking person on the premisses and Z speaks a little Arabic).

At the end of the interview Kimberly pronounced them fit for their program, and the happy family moved in -- two carry-on size bags, in a room with two sets of bunk beds. Teeny-tiny, but just exactly what was needed.

Thank you: World Vision, Family & Adult Service Center, Neighborhood House (for the translating service), Operation Nightwatch donors & staff, Fuller Seminary students Joe & On, plus all the various do-gooders that got this family this far along. There is a long ways to go, but at least they bought some time and some help can be found for them.

Whew. Time for a nap yet?


Ah, the good old days at 91 Wall Street. The title of this picture is "Have you called my name yet?" because that was all this guy ever said to us, besides reminding us incessantly of what his name was. Like, every 5 minutes.

Family on the Street

I thought it was going to be an easy night, taking 2 Fuller Seminary students with me as we hit the bars. (They had fun putting on clerical collars for the first time.)

But there were three families at the Operation Nightwatch dispatch center, waiting for help. One of those three homeless families was out of options.

Mom, Dad, a four year old boy and 2 year old girl. They speak no English. They have been in the United States for 7 weeks. Not sure about their immigration status.

We tried to sneak them into Tent City 3, but the residents didn't want to take the risk of having children in the camp. I agree it wasn't a good option, but better than nothing, which is what we were dealing with.

So, I ended up taking them to the Marco Polo -- a reasonable hotel on Aurora Avenue. The manager was very helpful, and one of the students paid for the room -- like $65

Don't know what will happen with them after this one night -- hopefully I'll be able to get them in someplace tonight for a month or two.

Monday nights in the bar, what a snore!

Sorry Pastor Norm. It is too quiet for me on a Monday night.

After getting the family settled, we ended up going to the bars, in reverse order. Third and Bell had the best conversations, the two students connected with some patrons, I met a new guy talking with the former Man with No Identity (MWNI) who now is a tenant at Nightwatch. We agreed that this would be a good setup for "Eugene" (city, not his name), so he may pop by for an application, though we have no openings.

On to My Favorite Queen Anne Tavern (MFQAT). Really dead -- sort of dissed the bar, sorry guys. Hope no one took offense, walked in, walked out. Spent a few minutes with Minor Prophet out on the sidewalk. He had a great day, set some sort of selling record at his store, so hoorah for him.

Then Dravus Street -- exact opposite order. Had "interesting" conversation with two women, both pretty smashed. Not sure if I was solicitated or not -- one was way too pretty to be working (despite Hollywood, hookers are usually more disturbing than attractive). I hope I was more unsettling to her than she was to me.

The students played pool, and at 11:30 we called it quits for the night. Up for a Board Meeting, reporting back at 7:00 a.m. YIKES! Rick, bleary-eyed.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What does war cost?

Tonight Father Kim and I encountered TJ.

He's been back from Iraq for two weeks. He was drunk, sloppy messy drunk. He told us in detail about shooting two Iraqi kids. No excuses, just a few grizzly details, and the hopes that maybe one of them survived.

After shooting children in Iraq, how do you come back and live a normal civilian life?

So, despite the horrors TJ has seen in the past few years, he's going to re-enlist, and head back to the war. He missed his rifle.

Now I pray he doesn't kill himself riding a motorcycle home while under the influence.

From War to Pumpkins

The topic of discussion was farming at MFQAT. Nice change of pace. Minor Prophet told a story from back home about a farmer loosing his 1,000 pound pumpkin off the back of his truck without knowing it, smashing into a VW.

Someone in the bar is a shadow of his former self. Unbelievable. Hooray Jenny Craig. Or whatever.

"I'm a believer, I go to Mars Hill" but I wondered why "Bubba" was making a deal in the parking lot and carrying a crack pipe? Stop #3 was interesting -- a Nightwatch tenant saw me in the bar, and came over with his rent check. Another patron -- someone who has given $400 to Nightwatch since December 1, wanted me to check out prices for hotel in "Nawleans." Father Kim had a long talk with D whose son is shipping out to Afghanistan while she's having a CAT scan for cancer. K & K both there -- no pool tonight because folks were fighting.

Nighty sad night -- sniff. Rick

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Women Trouble

Hey, not what you think.

We don't have enough shelter for anyone in town, but we don't have enough shelter for women in Seattle. We had some nights in April when we turned away 7 - 9 women. All the women's shelters were full. (Actually SHARE/WHEEL may have had space available, but they don't take one-night referrals from us -- too disruptive for their "self-managed" model, and too difficult to take women in to their system in the late hours. grrr)

Also, there probably is more space if the existing shelters would agreet to take more -- some of them place limits because their host organizations limit them, sometimes their lack of creative problem solving is another limiting factor. Anyway, enough grousing.

The women of Nightwatch pose special problems. If they are here, they are more likely to have been "barred" from other programs because of bad behavior; drug/alcohol/mental illness or some combination may be a factor. Being "barred" means you can't access those programs any longer, or have to go through an appeals process. A bar can last one night, a week or month, or, for more serious offences, can be permanent. When a guest threatens a staff person, volunteer, or another guest, we tend to take such threats of violence pretty seriously.

So, we're currently checking on possiblities for Nightwatch to take on the task of serving these women -- small scale part-time shelter -- a dozen women, two staff people overnight, up and out by 7:00 a.m. location, staffing, and whether we can really make it happen to be determined.
Praying for wisdom and resources.