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, August 31, 2007

Street misery

Street ministry or street misery?

I put up a happy picture of John and Tiger to remind myself that Nightwatch isn't all tragic horror. It just feels that way sometimes.

John is a paying tenant -- he does jigsaw puzzles and brags about how long he's lived in the building. I feel pretty good knowing that without Nightwatch he'd probably be flopping around one of the shelters at age 75, or dead.

Meanwhile, anyone have a joke for me?

Must be a holiday weekend -- I need three days off.


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Pointless Search?

I'm not really sure what to say when I get calls like I got this week.

"My daughter is missing, she was evicted from her Capitol Hill apartment. The manager says he saw her in the park. When you find her, have her call me collect."

I feel so cynical in these situations. In a town of 1.2 million (Greater Seattle) and 7,800 homeless individuals on any given night (according to the One Night Count) I'm supposed to wander around and find a particular not-very-together homeless woman? Give me a break.

So, I did drive around a bit on Capitol Hill last night. Didn't really see anyone at 9:30 p.m. I'll keep the particulars in my car so I can jump out like a cop making a bust: "Call your mother!"

OK. Stranger things have happened.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What are we supposed to do?

What are we supposed to do? Operation Nightwatch served 51 women on Monday night. We had space around town for less than 30. Many just turned around and walked out -- not wanting to sit around waiting for the last call at 11:00 p.m. from one of the women's shelters. They knew what the answer was going to be.

In the summer we should be enjoying life. But the crush of people this summer is unlike any summer in my fourteen summers at Nightwatch. The strain is being felt by the homeless, by the staff, and the whole system. No one has an answer.

I am in dread of September rains.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

End of an Era

It was my last night at "Dravus Street Bar" (all names changed to protect . . . oh who knows) -- last big blowout is Saturday night, and you couldn't get me there if you paid me and picked me up in a limo.

So of course tonight I met a coupla nice guys -- one a retire cop (where the heck has he been? We could have used him the past 9 months). He told me he started drinking there 35 -40 years ago. We swapped names, he told me I couldn't be a good priest since I turned down his offer of wine. Shout out to Dean Quall, retired SPD officer who was on the Nightwatch board about 14 years ago. Maybe I met him once. Other friendly face was a property owner in the hood who stops off on his way home (Lynnwood) after painting or whatnot on his apartments.

He said something I had never heard in 25 years of bar ministry:

Bartender: "You want another one?"
Patron: "Nah. Two is my limit."

Way to go. This shall be my final memory of the Dravus Street Bar. A lot happened here in a short time for the Nightwatch ministers.

Indulge me a longer-than-usual reflection.

"Milk Maid" is the glue (besides booze, I mean) that held the place together. She's worked here longer than she cares to admit, maybe 25 to 30 years; she hates to hear that. And sometimes she quit but always came back.

Milk Maid was sad about what was going to happen to the whole screwed up-dysfunctional-alcoholic-addict family that circles around Dravus Street. Her flock is being scattered, and she worries about them; she will miss many of them. But then, some of her favorites have been 86'd out of there in the past six months.

Her nightmare commute to Bellingham will end on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Imagine driving to Seattle from Bellingham every day to pour beers and mix drinks for that crowd. Oh yeah, she cooks a mean burger, they say. Never ate anything there.

Part of what she left me: Angostura bitters -- good for what ails ya. Compassion for the hard-bitten. The impossibility of one person to manage such a place. Never a growl escaped her lips, even when trying to get better behavior from one of her kids.

I wonder what is next for her.

She gave me her phone number on a coaster, and told me I better explain it to my wife. I don't think Lorri will mind. I'm going to call her early next week to find out how the closing party went, and probably on Thursday night for awhile -- my night to be in there.

It feels weird -- there were some brutal crimes, ugly scenes -- hookers picking off guys who 10 minutes prior had asked for prayer; lock downs, when girlfriends were huddled at the bar. "W" trying to figure out what to do, having come home to find his stuff locked up by the landlord; "T" getting busted for living in a parking lot in Ballard in her van, even though there were no drugs; the crazy old lady who drank coffee and sat in the corner -- conversations with her were stream of conciousness webs that lured you in; the exotic dancer shimmying around the room, fully clothed and looking like an example of plastic surgery gone sadly awry; "H" getting it on to "Jungle Boogie" his gapped toothed smile and incredible bulk seriously impressive in dance; "J" the young pool hotshot who I mysteriously ran into in Chinatown -- cryptically telling me he doesn't "do that" anymore; PFC "J" and his drunk motorcycling death wish; passing out popsicles; going around the room with Father Kim fixing all the malfunctioning beer lights when we were the only two people in the bar; the end of smoking inside; Milk Maid's tangle with the falling equipment in the kitchen; "K-J" and pal wanting a Bible & rosaries (eek, too late on the extras). Not to mention the whole Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, following me around on the stormiest night of the year saga; "DB" spewing venom and insanity and then making peace in a most-lovely righteous way. Whew. I know there's a bunch I missed. Sorry to run on so long.

I'll miss the people, but not the place. God keep them close. Rick

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From the archives: Pastor Rick, Mechanic

Maybe it was rescuing the Mercedes driver last week; something was triggered.

We got a call about 9:30 p.m. that a family was stranded -- they weren't homeless, but they weren't going to get home in the heap they were driving.

I dispatch Mark Abbott & Matt Whitehead to get the mom, three kids and an 18 year old nephew into a hotel room for the night (way to go, guys), and told the family I'd meet them at their car then next morning. Say, 10:00 a.m.

The 18 year old nephew told me it was the alternator. He didn't really know, but that's what some service station grease monkey told him.

I asked for prayer, grabbed the kid and drove to the nearest wrecking yard. The bored guys behind the counter couldn't care less. Yeah, we got one of those, and the lazy hand wave indicating the general direction.

We found an identical heap, managed to grab the alternator with a minimum of pain, paid the dude at the counter (all of $20 I think). Within an hour everything was done, installed, jump started with my little Toyota tin can -- and they were able to drive home to the coast. Not a bad day.

Lorri says, "Sure sign that there is a God."


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Monday, August 13, 2007

Bar Closure

Attention Drinkers, starting August 19 the "Dravus Street" bar will be closed for good. Three lanes of drinkers will be reduced to one. Take alternate routes.

Washington Department of Transportation attributes the closure to "expansion joints." Need we say more? Apparently others are concerned as well.

Friday night happy hour will be the real test of capacity.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Car problem solved

It seemed like a joke.

Here's the line of homeless folks going into Operation Nightwatch at 9 p.m. The woman in the Mercedes parked next to them needed a jump start.

The Nightwatch minister has the jumper cables and the live battery.

Needless to say, we had lots of advice and help.

Despite that, we got her going. Rick

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

It's all about the pie

It's early in the month. Only dispatched maybe 120 homeless men & women to shelter.

At the end of the night I got back to dispatch. A few clients sitting around at 11:15. Staff was taking a pie break.

Rumor is that the Dravus Street tavern is closing. Neighbors will be happy, but the guys at MFQAT were wondering if the riff-raff might show up there.

Anyway, I hate breaking in a new bar. Might drive me to eat.

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