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.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sullivan's Travels and April's Sadness

There is a scene in the 1941 Preston Sturges movie Sullivan's Travels that absolutely killed me this weekend. The male lead wakes up in a shelter without his shoes.

It's a stereotype. (There are a ton in this movie). But the thing they got right: stuff happens when you're homeless, shelter or not. Your day labor job ruins your only set of clothes. You set your bag down, turn around, and it's gone. You drop quarters in a phone and get a wrong number. Your friend takes off with the money for the deposit, you sprain an ankle and on and on.

Now April is almost here. Surprise! More fun. April 1st, a shelter closes for 40 women (apparently it's mild enough, we don't have to be concerned about these 40 women now facing being outside at night). There are 50 men facing the same fate when they close the shelter at the King County Administration building.

This winter shelter stuff has been a problem the entire 15 years I've been here. Can't we figure something out?


Thursday, March 26, 2009

20 men. Who cares?

Tonight we told 20 guys that there's no shelter in the entire city of Seattle. "Here's your blanket, good luck, God bless."

If you've never done that, it is a sickening feeling.

Next week 50 more homeless guys will be turned out of the King County Administration building shelter. Forty women will be pushed out from Angeline's women's shelter. It's horrible.
Many of my friends would say, "The City of Seattle should do something." I say, forget the City of Seattle. YOU should do something.
If your congregation isn't providing space and volunteers for homeless people, SHAME on YOU. If you have resources; time, space, willingness, let's talk.
I would invite the policy makers who decided April was an acceptable month for shelter closures to spend a few nights sleeping in their back yard with a blanket.

Why are we heating city hall when our citizens are sleeping outside?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Passing of a friend

My friend June passed away today. I'm sad.

In the mid 1970s she decided the young adults at our local church had enough Sunday school. It was time go into action. So they organized "church" at Branch Villa Nursing Home in Seattle's Central District. Every Sunday morning, 9:00 am, instead of sitting around eating danishes and arguing some esoteric doctrine, we gathered 30 residents and sang old fashioned gospel songs with guitars, and sometimes with the piano stylings of a resident, Alta. One old vaudevillian would rise and sing solo. "Church in the Wildwood" might morph into "Pistol Packin' Mama." I stuck with it for 10 years, every week. Others continued even longer, all started by June.

One old Skid Road denizen was released back into a flea bag hotel. June found out where he was, and we took him a birthday cake. It was crazy fun. The guy was 70 and never saw anything like it. We passed out cake to eveyone coming through the lobby.

Long before I had any sense of my life's work, June would tell me, "Rick, you're on" and I would have to get up in front of these old people and bring some word of encouragement. I might go on for 4 minutes, but that was pushing it.

Dang it. Death is no good.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Homeless Ping Pong

Santa Clarita is in a weird sort of ping pong game, with homeless people being the much maligned ball.
No neighborhoods want to host the temporary shelter.
So bus tickets to another location in Los Angeles seemed in order.
This one line appears in the article: ". . .never mind that the CDC {the local non-profit shelter provider) ran a tight ship and never drew many police calls." Read more here.
The *NIMBYs in Santa Clarita want to maintain their housing values (okay, cue the laughter).
They should welcome homeless people, and get the investment bankers out of town!
* NIMBY = "Not In My Back Yard"

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Feeling testy this morning

Well, who wouldn't be testy? It was a horrible night to be homeless last night. Street minister Dustin and I took newly laundered blankets down to Nickelsville, the homeless tent site named in honor of Seattle's mayor. It was a muddy hole, yet nearly every tent was filled.

Then we went to another camp site at St. Mark's Cathedral. People were in better spirits, but still, here's 100 homeless people in the cold and rain.

Back at Nightwatch, it was 11:00 pm and the last few "lucky" homeless guys were getting sent to shelter. Our dispatch center was still full, and not a shelter bed was available city wide. Thirty guys, waiting, waiting.

Then the darndest thing. At 11:30 we called the shelter located at the Millionair Club. Only 60 guys had shown up. We sent another load there, and only 5 guys had to take a blanket.

Apparently 15 - 20 guys came to eat, took a shelter slip, and got a better offer before they vanished into the night. Crisis averted, for now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Death in the family

It feels pretty lousy this morning, to pluck my PI out of the back yard. (Seems like the guy could at least hit the porch, last chance and all.)

146 years of history. Done.

I'm adjusting.

After doing the crossword puzzle, I called circulation. They are NOT going to automatically switch me over to the Times. I'm done.

Save a tree, I say. Although maybe I'll cave in later, for Danny Westneat's sake. :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sick and miserable

Everyone gets sick at some point. The flu. Ugh. Imagine being sick AND homeless.
Tonight some young lady was looking really miserable - wrapped up in blankets, fevered. She was sitting in one of the tent cities.
"What do you usually do in these cases?" I asked the person in the Headquarters tent. "If I get medicine can you give it to her?"
Yup. So I ran off to the store.
I'm looking at the TheraFlu. Shoot, you have to be able to heat water for that.
Ended up with two packages of capsule form of Vick's Nyquil. Your donor dollars at work!

Monday, March 09, 2009

News: Homeless people are not bums

We've had a running joke about posting pictures of our clients, so that people could adopt them online. Exploitive, horrible, but absurd/funny. And impossible.
Now someone has done it. More here.
Exploitive. Horrible

Friday, March 06, 2009

Train Wreck

First stop, Nickelsville, now located at Bryn Mawr United Methodist, near Renton. Not close, but oh well. Kudos to the church for hosting for three months.

Stopped at the usual places, nice conversation. Encouraged Da Nang to make up with his buddy. He said he would.

Then, on the way back to HQ I saw an old friend, struggling with drug issues. It's 11:30 at night, she's headed downtown. I pull a three-lane U-Turn and roll down the window. "You okay?" I ask her.

I know the answer, but I wanted to hear what she said.

"I'm just going downtown to meet my boyfriend." She's lying, lying, lying. She going to make a connection.

She knows I know she's lying.

It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Just gotta stand back and let it happen. It's too late to wave lanterns or throw switches.

I'm going to bed, sick to my stomach.