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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Arlo Guthrie: Hobo's Lullaby, by Goebel Reeves

Woodie Guthrie recorded an up-tempo version of this song, which totally blew me away. This is pretty, but not as edgy as I would like!

Go to sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by
Can't you hear the steel rail humming
That's a hobo's lullaby

Do not think about tomorrow
Let tomorrow come and go
Tonight you're in a nice warm boxcar
Safe from all the wind and snow

I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to heaven
You won't find no policemen there

I know your clothes are torn and ragged
And your hair is turning grey
Lift your head and smile at trouble
You'll find happiness some day

So go to sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by
Don't you feel the steel rail humming
That's a hobo's lullaby


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mountain of Blankets, hooray!!!

Our much awaited Mountain of Blankets arrived yesterday, courtesy of the Department of Defense.
Special shout out to Ken Alhadeff and Rep. Brian Baird, who burrowed into the DOD to figure out why it was a messed up order.
So, we had no idea what 3,000 blankets look like; IT IS A PILE!
Thank you to the crew that unloaded the semi-truck. Tent City 3 Guys, along with Board member John F. and former Board member David T. Plus two Millionair Club workers and the Nightwatch boys (me and my peeps) and Matt from ROOTS.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Everything's different in the light of day

I just reread what I wrote 14 hours ago. Looks pretty cynical.

Staying up all night is a challenge, but WOW do we meet some cool people. Something like 400 volunteers in the middle of the night wanting to do something about homelessness.

All that energy. Too bad it wasn't the happiest result. Homeless numbers are up.

From the press release:

"Over 125 teams, deployed from nine area headquarters, found a total of 2631 people trying to survive without housing or shelter throughout King County. This number is 15% more than the total number of people counted in the same areas last year. This morning’s unsheltered count does not include the estimated 6000 people taking advantage of emergency shelter and transitional housing."

Wah. Guess Nightwatch will be needed a bit longer.



Thursday, January 24, 2008

On Counting Homeless People

We've got lots of energy, we're out with our friends at 2:00 in the morning.
It feels an awful lot like college prank stuff.
Except it's not.
It's deadly serious, a crying shame, that we have to go through this. If I sound jaded and sick of the whole thing, maybe I am. I wonder what would happen if I refused to count homeless people?
This year the Compass Center is hosting the event. Why is little old Nightwatch still up to our ears in this thing? We figured out the other day that the Compass Center is 14 times bigger budget-wise than we are. Yet, here is the entire Nightwatch admin staff busy all night.
OK, I'll quit bitching. Loads of people are chipping in on this thing now. Just once I'd like to read about it in the paper in the morning, over a cupa joe.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Cherry Hill Baptist

Way to go, Cherry Hill Baptist (22nd & Cherry St) for hosting Tent City 3. The place was full tonight, people having nice conversations. The church lets homeless people use the fellowship hall for TV room in the evening. It was nice, and warm too! So blessings on you all.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

On proposed encampment rules

It's not very blog-i-licious:

Comments on the proposed Administrative Rules Re: Unauthorized Encampments
By Rev. Rick Reynolds, Executive Director, Operation Nightwatch

Operation Nightwatch serves 140 to 160 homeless individuals every night of the year. Often there are no shelter beds available for the people who come seeking help. For more than 20 years Operation Nightwatch simply assisted homeless people with accessing shelter. But circumstances have forced us to use private donations to expand the existing shelter system through contracting with third party providers, adding to the number of shelter beds available each night in Seattle.

Despite adding 75 mats for men (Compass Center at FASC), 25 sober mats for men (Bread of Life Mission) and 30 mats for women (Salvation Army, at Seattle First Covenant Church), Nightwatch continues to turn homeless people away from shelter between 9:00 pm and midnight. On January 10, 2008, after the proposed rules were issued by the City, eleven men were turned away because no shelter was available, on a night when the severe weather shelters were open and also full.

Our interest in these administrative rules goes beyond the definitions, processes, and prohibitions that outline civil behavior for city workers, city government, and homeless people themselves. We find nothing in these regulations that outline what IS allowable for people who find themselves with no housing or shelter for a night. May they sleep on the sidewalk? Can they bundle up at a bus stop? What advice can we give to those simply trying to survive tonight outside?

These issues must be addressed. The city currently funds severe weather shelters at the Frye Apartments, City Hall, and in extremely harsh weather, at the Seattle Center. These are night-to-night shelters, serving 100 to 200 people. How does the City advise these people on the nights those shelters are not open? What guidance does the City give its shelter contractors? What guidance can the City give other privately funded organizations like Operation Nightwatch, Union Gospel Mission, Bread of Life Mission, CityTeam Ministries, and other shelters turning people away every night?

Operation Nightwatch applauds the efforts to end homelessness. Can’t we figure out short term and intermediate steps for people who are homeless now? At midnight tonight we can’t tell some homeless day-laborer that affordable housing is coming in 2011.

Rick Reynolds


Monday, January 14, 2008


St. Marks, 9:30 p.m.

Compline service.

I really felt old, attending this end-of-day worship service. It's been around forever, very popular with the under-25 crowd. I first attended 35 years ago.

The kids just flop around anywhere in the nave, pulpit, altar. There didn't seem to be much decorum, which may be the point after all. (Can you tell, I'm trying hard not to be a fuddy-duddy.)

When the chanting starts, the kids fall silent.

I wondered if any of them were "getting it."

When the first words of the Apostle's Creed are being chanted, the entire room comes to attention.

The loungers stand and turn to face the cross.

It is quite a moment. Five stars.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blast from the past

Took three college students around last night. We were drowning in pastries, so we shared with Tent City and with St. Martin de Porres shelter. Took coffee to Bread of Life.

Then went to the old neighborhood, parking in front of 91 Wall Street, Nightwatch location from 1994 to 1997.

It was so quiet and weird.

There wasn't a single homeless person around anywhere. The block of the Millionair Club was deserted. First Avenue was quiet except for the required intense conversation between a 27 year old office worker and her next boyfriend as they had a smoke outside the organic restaurant.

I stood in the alley where so many homeless guys have pissed, and told my impressionable companions this story.

Mid afternoon, on a hot day in the summer. I come into the alley to dump the trash. Some guy is sleeping right in the middle of the alley, totally exposed to the sun and God and the garbage trucks that rumbled by constantly.

I lean over him. "Hey, buddy! Are you okay?"

He feebly lifts his head. "Yeah, it's all good."

But I could see the chewing gum from the alley stuck to the back of his head. Not good.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Behind the Red Wall"

It's getting scary.
The police department is cracking down on homeless people. I didn't realize how bizarre things had gotten until last night.
I was out late with a group of college students visiting from Greenville, Illinois, a village about 90 minutes from St. Louis, out in the cornfields. We walked a bit downtown, and saw several weird things, to me:
First, there were no people sleeping under Yesler street at 4th Avenue. This has been a homeless camping area for 20 years.
Second, there was not a single soul in City Hall Park at 8:30 at night.
Third, there was a chaotic queue of homeless people along the Jefferson Street side of the King County Administrative Building, waiting for the opening of the County-funded winter shelter for men run by Salvation Army. Why they think lining up, first come/first served is a good idea, I don't know.
We walked up 4th Avenue. Across the street homeless people waited for the opening of the severe weather shelter at City Hall (Behind the Red Wall -- sounds like a great book title).
It was 9:00 p.m. The doors were still locked.
Cold sleet and wind. But maybe not cold enough?
City of Seattle workers didn't think so.
I think any night that the severe weather shelters are closed, the following day they should shut off the heat in all City offices. It's only fair.
It was a miserable night watching homeless people milling around with no place to go.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What are the chances?

Last week I got a call from one of our Nightwatch tenants living in the senior apartments. He's been in the hospital and now a nursing home in the north end.

"There's someone here that wants to say hi," he tells me.

Then a strange voice. "Bet you can't guess who this is!"

You're right.

"It's your old friend, Loser."

My mouth fell open. Loser (not his real name, duh, but the one he went by when I knew him 12 years ago).

Loser slept in his van outside Nightwatch when we were in another neighborhood. He helped out around the place, and helped himself a tad too. Think 'biker dude.' He has a toad sticker about 10 inches on the front seat of his van. No one messes with him. He gets his blankets from homeless people in the morning for a buck. Somehow he survives.

Next thing I knew, Loser was the manager of a downtown apartment building. He actually helped me get Herchel off the street after we got the social security stuff taken care of.

Every few months we'd check in with each other. OK, maybe once, twice a year. You know how it goes. I thought he left town. Last time I checked, his replacement at the apartment building didn't know what happened to him.

Anyway, remember the senior tenant - John - who called me? They're assigned to the same nursing home room in the north end. John and Loser, side by side. The mind reels. What are the chances? Both are hanging on to life, for now.


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