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, April 15, 2011

Dubious Record

Last night, 205 desperate people came to Nightwatch for help. The final 45 minutes were painful, handing out hats, talking about options, passing out blankets and bus tickets. There were 28 men and women with no rudimentary shelter of any kind. Every shelter in Seattle was full.

The full range of human emotions were demonstrated. Rage, humor, compassion. (One guy took a blanket, then gave it away.) Sadness. Lots and lots of sadness.

April is the worst month to be homeless in Seattle. Surprised?

City Hall housed 75 guys all winter; the Frye Apartment lobby was temporary home to 25-30 women, King County Admin building hosted 50 men, Angeline's winter shelter housed 40 women. There was a winter shelter in Redmond for 40 people. These all were closed April 1. One night, you're on a mat in a warm place, and then next night, good luck. April weather.

One final image from our Thursday night of pathos. An older woman, pushing her walker, dragging a travel bag and her little dog on a leash, was one of those going without shelter. She quietly asked to have us call an ambulance. "Where would you like to go?" we asked.

"Virginia Mason."

I gave her and the dog a lift to the ER. Hopefully the belligerant drunk at the entrance would keep the security people busy enough, they won't notice her sleeping in a chair in the waiting room.

It's 12:15 a.m. Tonight is another night. God save us.

Friday, April 08, 2011

If you take up knitting after reading this, keep to dark colors!

Sometimes, late at night, I’m not feeling very good. The late night work often gets tacked onto an already busy work week, and can feel like one more thing to do. Sometimes I go out for my weekly visits, wondering “Why am I here” or some variation on the theme.

It was one of those ho-hum nights. “Am I really doing anybody any good?” So far, it didn’t seem so. I made a stop at a homeless encampment, I hung around Nightwatch. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was the endless drizzle. Bleah.

Then, I ran into a buddy in the south Lake Union neighborhood. He’s an old guy, getting around in a wheelchair. His explanation: “The Army thought it was cheaper to give me a $500 wheelchair than to save my toes.” There he sat on the street corner, in his wheelchair, in the drizzle. Bare-headed and bald.

“Hey, I got what you need,” I told him, fishing around in my bag for a LOLKC. (That’s a Little Old Lady Knit Cap, in case you were wondering.) This particular LOLKC was an atrocious color – baby blanket blue or something. Plus, it was pretty thin wool, a sort of open weave. “You know what? Here’s another one,” and I pulled out an olive drab LOLKC. “You put one on top of the other and voila. It looks like you are covering dreadlocks. . . "

“The girls are going to love this!” he said.

We both got the lift we needed.

Monday, April 04, 2011

What is the solution?

I’m standing outside a shelter, 11:30 at night. You might think all my stories start this way. You might be right.

One friend has been stuck in this situation forever. I mean, seven years ago, he came to my house for Christmas. Now, here he is, still on the street.

It’s wearing on him. He looks, and feels 10 years older than his chronological age. He is witty. Quite charming, actually. His days are booked solid with survival. It’s a full-time challenge. Food, hygiene, classes, more classes, more food. He comes to Nightwatch at 9:00 pm, leaves for the shelter across downtown, where he gets a little sleep, then gets rousted out at 5:30 am and starts all over again.

He needs to get into housing. He needs to get more income than the paltry $289 welfare he is paid now. But no one will house him, and no one will hire him. So he lives and moves on the margins, wasting away. He’s stuck.

Did I mention he’s a Level 3 sex offender?

I have no clue about the harm he’s done. And, I don’t know what has been done to him, though I can guess. All I know is, no one is better off having him live the way he lives.

What is the solution?