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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Homeless in Paradise

Horrible but true, there are homeless people being chased out of parks in Paradise.


Monday, August 25, 2008

No shelter, solutions for homelessness

I've read this article several times, and I'm beginning to think it's written in code, or maybe the sugar from lunch has kicked in. . . what do you make of it? Here

Tropical Storm & Homeless in Alabama

Tropical Storm Fay didn't live up to its advance billing in south Alabama
Saturday evening, but for the area's homeless, even the threat of bad weather
can set off a scramble.

Several homeless men were among those who spent Saturday night at the
James Seale Community Center on Texas Street. A small group sat in the gymnasium
Sunday morning, watching cartoons as American Red Cross volunteers prepared to
close the temporary storm shelter.

Walter Birks, 51, said he caught a bus to the shelter on Saturday.
Homeless since a traffic accident led to an eviction last month, he said he has
spent the last few weeks seeking out temporary shelter while hobbling around on

Whole story here.


Friday, August 22, 2008


A better title might be: "My crazy life."
I was hustling around the house to get ready to go on the street tonight. Had to tank up with gas (yeah, ouch is right) and stop in the store cause I knew I wouldn't remember at midnight. And I did some quick math and figured a gallon of milk would be ok in the car while Fr. Kim and I did our night-time ramble.
Well, it was still waiting for me this morning in the back of my car, a tepid jug of milk. Now I gotta figure how fast to drink it, or just toss it.
It was another fun night - great conversations at TC 3. They assured me that they could be as mono-topical as the people in any bar, we just hadn't hung out enough.
I could listen to the French accent of one resident there all night. Ooo - la - la!
MFQAT (My Favorite Queen Anne Tavern) was so packed - one of the bartenders (someone I don't know, they must never work Thursdays) lost a parent, so it was a wake. Almost too many people for conversation. We talked to a few old friends and moved downtown.
Ran into "GG" outside 3rd and Bell. Nice sober conversation. He thanked me for our work - it has been many years, off and on. He camps out when his wife can't get in, and she does the same for him. They don't mind splitting up, just don't want the other to be outside alone. Sorta sad, sorta sweet, don't you think?
Walking around Belltown is a revelation. First, I felt about 100 years old. Second, I think the drug trade is booming there. Third, some of those girls need to go put some clothes on, or be prepared for old geezers to crumble over.
It seemed like a full night, though we got back at 11:30. Oh well, c'est la vie.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Motorcycle Chaplain

Imagine a guy in a clerical collar riding around on a Harley. That's Chaplain Dave. And because we all look alike (!) people downtown ask me about my bike. It's ok, though I think I'm better looking. Maybe.

Last week there were four of us on the street - Aaron went with Dave, I took Rick A. who is a member of our board. We hung out in Tent City, met up on Queen Anne. No great shakes, just nice conversation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Speech at Westlake

It felt weird, talking in public before an empty plaza. Having done it once, I would definitely frame my story differently. There were more homeless people paying attention than there were lunch hour tourists.

But I don't feel bad at all about my conclusion:

"We have a crisis brewing in our community.
It is not an economic crisis.
This crisis is not about gasoline prices.
The crisis is not about a shortage of food.
The crisis is not about health care or who is going to be elected this fall or
how our neighborhoods are going to develop.
These things all matter.
But the central question facing us: can we embrace every human in this community? Can we learn to care about the homeless guy with the same joy we show Paul Allen? Can we begin look upon the mentally ill with the eyes of a mother,
rather than the eyes of a mayor?"

It's a bit like a ball player striking out, when things don't go quite right in a talk. Shrug it off, on to the next opportunity.

The best thing that came out of the day, my conversations with homeless people before and after the event. Some friends of Mama Dread, one older woman in a wheelchair who told me "I know everyone" and a question from "Doc" about toxic mold in a shelter he stayed at in 1999. Oh yeah, and advice for a mom with five kids and no place to go.

So, maybe there was a reason for me to be there.


Friday, August 08, 2008


qui·es·cent (adjective)
Etymology: Latin quiescent-, quiescens, present participle of quiescere to become quiet, rest, from quies 1 : marked by inactivity or repose : tranquilly at rest 2 : causing no trouble or symptoms.

I took three grocery bags of "queiscently frozen" treats to Tent City 3 last night. They instantly disappeared. Security took the three bags and jetted. It was pretty funny. I think the woman was going to make sure the women got their share of the fancy ones.

Early night, due to an early morning. All quiet at Nightwatch Dispatch. New group from Inglewood Presby seemed really green. Didn't know about trays, and later in the night I worried about whether they knew where other supplies were located - stuff like spoons. Thank you Jim, Bev?, Dorothy, Graley!


Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Opting for housing versus handouts"

They're doing some significant for homeless families in Buena Park, CA. You can read about it here.

It's always better to help people get off the street for good.

But, I think the Buena Park mayor suffers from some sort of delusion. He just went through a big effort to build a 17 unit apartment building for families who will pay rent on a sliding scale.

Done deal? Now what happens to the other homeless families in the community? Tell them to "get in line" for the next opening. Meanwhile, what?

This story is being repeated everywhere. Much ballyhooing and marching bands accompany the building of apartments for homeless people. Meanwhile, more people show up needing help, and we're supposed to say "We've done all we could, sorry your application wasn't in the 'lucky' pile."

Dumpster == Home

Here was the news item:

"Covington firefighters pull a homeless man from a garbage truck (WKRC-TV) A homeless man inside a Covington dumpster nearly winds up getting crushed overnight. "

Covington, Kentucky, is just across the river from Cincinnati. The homeless community, or some part of it, used to live in the back of the U-Haul trucks; the manager (probably former magager) tolerated it until one of the guys set a fire. This was in the mid to late 1990s.

Now apparently, they've moved into dumpsters. What a world.

The news station that covered this story has a blog, which had one entry: "Again?"


50 Years in Prison May Not Be Enough!

Hospital chief, shelter director used homeless for fraud, says FBI.

Geez. You could fund all of Operation Nightwatch for a year for what these two knuckleheads stole from the government. Read more here.

They should both have to live on Skid Road in LA for their entire sentence.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Dirty Bird

The "Dirty Bird" was the street name for the "Green Parrot Theatre." XXX all the way, old school porno movie house. Those places are all gone now, hard to believe. Now it can all be found on your computer at home. See below to understand how this info fits with your homeless survival strategy.

What? No more "GOMERS?"

If you don't know, a GOMER is someone that a hospital doesn't want messing up the emergency room: "Get Out of My Emergency Room" = GOMER.
Nursing home residents about to expire, homeless people without health care resources, hopeless cases. These people clog the health system.
Well, the hospitals in LA thought they had a solution until today, more here.
In the mid 1990s, when I was still new at Operation Nightwatch, I was one of two employees. I'd be outplacing homeless people in shelter, and we'd run out. There would be some sad guy, the last guy in the door, with no place to go.
"Try the emergency room at Harborview!" And so he'd take the #4 bus up the hill and hunker down in a chair.
Until I got a call from the social worker. I guess the hospital didn't want the business.
Twenty five years ago we had another option. The guys would pay $3 and sit in a dark movie theatre all night, trying to ignore the porno on the big screen. Pretty oppressive.
Wouldn't it be great to have Benaroya Hall open all night for homeless people? $5 a head for the night?
Cheaper than a hospital ER, that's for sure, and the seats are more comfy too.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Let them eat CAKE

Maybe it was my weekly trip to Tent City 3, currently located in Shoreline, at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 145th and 20th NE.
It was pouring rain. I had delivered a load of Nightwatch socks.
Despite the crummy weather, the TC3 residents offered me cake. It looked pretty good sitting there in the food tent. I don't really need the calories.
It was fun to see people walking around in the rain, eating their choco cake.
I remember a community meeting near Nightwatch several years ago. It was a bit tense in those days. People weren't sure what it was going to mean having Nightwatch in the their neighborhood. Were the old people going to be bothered? Were residents going to have petty crime? Were property values going to drop? Were neighborhood businesses going to suffer? All of these things were in mind.
They gave me 30 minutes to make my case. I was my usual passionate self, then I took questions.
From the back row, a younger man raised his hand.
“A few years ago, I was homeless,” he said. “I remember coming to Operation Nightwatch when they were located downtown.”

“I walked in the door the first night, and a volunteer handed me a piece of cake. I couldn’t believe it. They got cake! And I knew I was going to be okay. Now I have my own place. But I’ll never forget – they had cake.” His face glowed as he remembered the moment.
The tension in the room evaporated. People laughed at the way he said it. Such a big deal. But for him, the surest sign that God was watching out for him in his darkest hour was this sign of abundance -- a piece of cake, lovingly served up by a Nightwatch volunteer.
So. This morning at Bryn Mawr United Methodist, I told this story, which I don't think I've ever told anyone before. The gospel lesson: Jesus feeds the 5,000. God evidently cares about the things we need every day. Food. Shelter. Belonging. In these things we are not separated from each other. Homeless people are no different than the rest of us.
After church -- we all ate cake together. It was GREAT!