Street Stories

Weblog of Seattle minister to the homeless Rick Reynolds, Operation Nightwatch

My Photo
Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

Caring for human beings seems like the best use of my time, homeless or not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Smoke smoke smoke that cigarette. . . .

I’m pushing 30 years of involvement with Nightwatch.  And this was a first.

On my usual rounds, I ran into a homeless woman in a motorized wheelchair.  She’s been staying here, there, anywhere she can get help. She requires more personal care than the shelters are able to give.  Incontinence has caused some shelters to close the door to her.

I decided to ask a difficult question.  “Why don’t you go into a care facility?  You’re surely eligible.”  

“I was in one of those places for quite a while.  But they take all your money.  You’re left with $50 a month to spend on incidentals.  And I’m a smoker.”

She’d rather be homeless than give up smoking. She’s paying a terrible price for her Camels.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tuesday night memory

It's nine p.m. (ok, a little after by now). Deacon Joe Curtis, from Saint James Cathedral in Seattle would be making his stops for the night.

In the old days, nearly 17 years ago, he would deliver sandwiches to Operation Nightwatch, prepared by parishioners for the 75 homeless folks (men and women) that we were helping back then.  He would stop by the old Josephenum chapel at 2nd and Virginia (now Seattle's newest downtown Catholic parish, Christ our Hope.)  Here would be a team of faithful, praying for the safety of those on the streets.

Back at 91 Wall Street in Belltown (now a Rudy's Barbershop, where Christian cuts my hair.  Ironic?) there were St. James volunteers dishing up soup, passing out pieces of cake, handing out razors.

And Deacon Joe, with an escort or two, would walk the streets. Sometimes they bought someone a sandwich, sometimes they took a homeless guy to a shelter.  The guy was retired banker with tons of health problems, and he went out until late on Tuesday nights twice a month until he was reduced to wheeling a walker into our new space on 14th Ave.S.  Talk about commitment.

Yeah, he could be aggravating at times.  He was methodical, slow, controlling.  But most of all, he cared.

One story he told I'll never forget.  In his frailty one night, as he was getting sandwiches out of his car, he slipped and fell on the grass in the parking strip.  It was pouring rain, and a miserable line of people saw him go down hard.  He broke his hip, and briefly lost consciousness.  When he woke up, there was a homeless guy cradling him, holding his jacket over his head to divert the rainwater.  "It's okay, help is on the way," the guy told him.  And he stayed with him until the medics hauled Joe off to the ER.

It took Joe a lot of hard work to get back to Nightwatch.  But that's who he was.  Joe was someone who overcame many obstacles.  Perfect?  Nope.  But he was someone who gave a damn about homeless people, and he didn't have to.

I miss him tonight.  And I bet I'm not the only one.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Relief comes in many forms. 

Ice cream brought delighted smiles of residents at Tent City.

For others, relief is a bit more complicated.  “We’ve been smelling a bit tart,” a shelter worker admitted.  The anti-fungal cream was put into circulation almost immediately.  It’s hard to know who will be happier, those with funky feet, or their near-neighbors.

Relief is sometimes hard to gauge.  

A milkshake at Dick’s near midnight may bring relief for an artist with alternative internal wiring.  Maybe the bartender was relieved that he was leaving with me.

I'm relieved too.  Some of us recover more quickly from uncertainty than others though.  For those with alternative wiring, the political debate of the past month has been horrifying.  Will my check come?  Will I become homeless again?  There was relief, finally.  But we have not recovered.