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 29, 2009

My Fifteenth Count

Counting homeless people was part of my job when I arrived at Operation Nightwatch in 1994. I'd round up a pair of homeless guys, send them out, coordinating the areas with the police department, and type up a two page report for someone in the City of Seattle. The whole deal cost about $300, not counting my time.

I got this brainstorm - using volunteers to do the count, and do it all in one night. That was 1996. We had 12 volunteers that first year, and we covered all of downtown Seattle starting at midnight. Everyone agreed, it was too early.

The next year we lined the count up with the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness Shelter Survey, to get a snapshot of who is homeless in King County.

We were discovered by local media, the number of volunteers mushroomed, the area of the count grew.

The great thing that we fell into was hosting a breakfast after we were done counting. Counters took over a local cafe, I chalked the whole expense up to PR, and the elected officials jumped on the band wagon. I think they've all taken a turn at counting at some point.

Last year was amazing, as people all over King County are involved in this tremendous coordinated effort. For more news on the count, click here.

Last year we found 2,631 homeless people. What about this year? Tonight at 2:00 am the fun begins.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Drive-by shooting in downtown Seattle hospitalizes homeless man

Homeless people are much more likely to be victims of violent crime than the rest of us. I've seen college kids come out of a club, and kick the tar out of some poor guy sleeping in a doorway at 2:00 a.m. Read more here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tent City 3 is located in Shoreline, about a mile from where I grew up; tonight I followed my nose to the old neighborhood in Edmonds/Woodway area after delivering socks. Just a little detour.

It's strange -- driving past a house where a friend lived 30 years ago, and still feeling so connected to the place. I smiled, knowing that people I know probably drive past my old home in that neighborhood.

Do homeless people have these feelings, this sense of place? Absolutely!

I had this discussion with homeless friends in Belltown many years ago. Some had been kicked out of shelters for their bad behavior - too crazy or too high to sleep on a floor with other people. Yet they still malinger in the neighborhood. They feel safe with the familiar, even if that means familiar with a particular block, an alley, or a temporary squat.

Human beings are wired for "home-ness" whether they have an actual residence or not. It explains "Paul" living under Interstate 5 in the same location for over 10 years. Workers come and clean things out, and a week later he's back, rebuilding. Always a touch of style too - salvaged carpet, the odd chair; not a slacker with the garbage heap nearby, Paul packs it out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's it going to take?

I don't know what to do at this point. We are going to turn away 20 - 25 men tonight because there isn't enough shelter in the city of Seattle.
We can look at the good we do for the 150 men & women we got inside. But too many more nights of this, and people are going to blow a stack. Our employees are feeling really ragged.
We easily need another 50 spots, just for the people coming to Operation Nightwatch.
Maybe an Operation Nightwatch sponsored Tent City? I dunno. AAAaaarrrgggghh. I hope I got 3,000 blankets coming soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Great Smile

To get the full impact of this story, you probably should look at this picture, then imagine the exact opposite.

My buddy stops me on the street. He has about 6 teeth left in his mouth, and they're ready to tip over.

"Think anybody can help me with these?" he asks, and shows me how loose the survivors are. I wince. Couldn't help it.

"I'd really like implants," he goes on. Hmmm. No one is going to spring for those. What about dentures?

"Tell the truth. I'm just paranoid enough to think they're going to take my teeth out, polish them up, and sell them to someone else." Paranoid is right. The tooth fairy can only take so much.

I suggested he get someone to pop him one, then have Harborview do the extractions. My friend demurred. We had a good laugh, he gave me permission to tell the story.

Now, anyone have any ideas, besides the free clinic at Union Gospel?

Friday, January 09, 2009

No Room

Two items this week.

First, I got a friendly call from a local property manager.

Homeless people have been sleeping under a group of eight cottages in the neighborhood. Ben and I went to check things out.

These houses are vacant. Five of the eight were wide open to the world. No fencing, not even a door on the crawl space. Easy access, with mattresses. I alerted the manager to the impossibility of keeping homeless people out, without at least securing the property. The next day, nothing had changed.

Second. Last night we turned away 17 men because all the severe weather shelters were closed. It was 37 degrees. Those 17 guys got a blanket from us, and our best wishes for a good night sleep.

Tent city costs about $1.75 per person per night. A new overnight men's shelter would cost about $10.00 per person per night, assuming you could get some church to underwrite the space and utilities.

Those 17 guys all wanted inside. What should we do?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Christmas 2001

Fumbling around for a notebook - a new brain for a new year - I ran across a "vintage" Christmas story from 2001. Humor me.

I was asked to speak to a group
of inner city kids
about Christmas.

These kids were from Yesler Terrace,
Seattle Emergency Housing Services,
Operation Nightwatch.

More specifically -- they were from Somalia,
Ethiopia, Vietnam, Cambodia
and the other side of the tracks.

A tough crowd. Many cultures, languages, traditions.
Life had been tough for these families,
and I was nervous. What did they know about Christmas?
What would interest them?

I decided to get them talking.

"Tell me what you know about Christmas, about Jesus' birth. Use one word."

Hands went up. Words were written down.

(here every possible farm animal is added)
"How about something besides animals?" I suggest.

A brief pause:

(egad, these kids know the whole story, what can I add?)

There was a lull. One young boy raised this hand for the first time.


Yes, Jesus' birth was all about trouble: taxes, untimely pregnancy, homelessness, political uncertainty, religious longing, life itself.

Suddenly we all got it. Everyone has trouble - at school, in the city, the world. Trouble is everywhere.

Nice to know we're not alone. Jesus had trouble too.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Texas homeless shelter burns

Something else to think about - the risk of fire at a homeless shelter. It happened in Paris, Texas, and five homeless men were killed. So sad. Read more here.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Homeless paintball

Imagine how fun, driving around in Daddy's hot truck, shooting paintballs at homeless looking types. Ha ha. Big fun.

These 16 year old knuckleheads should get 2000 of community service and a lifetime ban at their local paintball range.

I wish I could have seen the look on their faces when the cops pulled them over. These were undercover cops on a prostitution stake out. Riverside, California. Read about it here.