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.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

News from Homeless Front

During the icy weather Operation Nightwatch volunteers have been working with Seattle Police to help get homeless people off the street and into shelter. The following extended report comes from one of those volunteers:

Our van (2 cops and me -- the cops both working overtime after their regular shift) must have had conversations with 30 or 40 individuals between 9PM and 1AM. Whenever any of us saw any mass of blankets that we thought might have a person sleeping in it or whenever we saw any person we judged might be homeless, we just stopped the van, I jumped out, and usually one of the officers did too. I'd start with a simple question like "We just want to make sure everyone's got a warm place to sleep tonight. Do you?" And from that starting point, we might end up with someone who willingly accepted a ride to shelter [they were taking people to the Rainier Room at the Seattle Center, ed]. Or they might have been on their way to a shelter themselves (e.g. several older guys were headed to William Booth). Or they might have required a real sales job by me and the cops to come with us. Or they might have been so apprehensive of the Police van that they just couldn't bring themselves to get in -- the saddest contact I had was with an obviously schizophrenic guy, with just a light jacket on, fluids streaming from his nose, but you could see that he was so wracked by the image of willingly getting into a police car that he just couldn't do it. I tried everything I could to convince him -- five times I had him to the van's door, five times he started waving his arms and saying "No, man, it's OK. Really. I'm OK." Finally I just felt like I couldn't get him in without something horrible happening to him or his pride, and now I can only hope that he found some kind of shelter last night.

I was impressed by how many of the folks the cops knew by name. Hookers, drug dealers, mentally ill guys, these cops know their territory and have an impressive, no-nonsense relationship with the people.

As with all experiences like this, the results were mixed. I am convinced that the three people we found sleeping on a bench in Pioneer square . . . could easily have died had we not come along when we did. They were far too drunk to even comprehend how cold they were until they thawed off in the van. I can feel good that the 10 or so people we took to the shelter traded their freezing journey for a warm mat (and a good crew from Salvation Army running things). I also know that every single person we talked to, even if they refused shelter, appreciated that the cops and volunteers cared about them. Still, I couldn't help marveling at people like a 60-year-old guy shuffling around Pioneer square in -- I am not making this up -- slippers!, insisting to me, over and over, that he was "OK". Why do we have so much trouble admitting to other people -- and to God -- that we need help?

Thank you volunteers, for the work you have been doing to keep vulnerable people safe. Rick


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