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, September 29, 2017


When I first started working with homeless people, I’d see them sleeping in the weirdest places and times. Sitting in a chair in a crowded noisy well-lit room. Flopped on the grassy parking strip, like today.
One guy was laying down in the middle of an alley in the hot sun in Belltown.  “Buddy” I yelled at him. “Are you okay?”
He lifted his head off the pavement. “Yeah, I’m just fine,” he said, then lay his head back down. But I saw the giant warm wad of gum tangled in his hair, and knew that he was that fine.
But today, there was a youngish woman alongside the Nightwatch building. She did not look to be in any great distress, and she had taken some care to lay down with her things next to her, much like someone might do on a sunny day in a park. She was sleeping and breathing comfortably, so I didn’t really think much about it.
But God bless one of our Nightwatch senior residents. He nudged her and asked if she was okay. “Just hungry, that’s all,” she told him. He brought her some treats from his room, she sat up, ate a bit and was on her way.
Now I’m feeling ashamed. But thankful for our senior tenant’s concern.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tipping Point

There seems to be a moment when little things add up, and something changes. Little things make a big difference.

For years we have been showing up with pizzas at a camp in Shoreline. Not a big deal. But for some reason, last week, everyone wanted to talk. Maybe it was the fact that we had already decided we were only going to two places instead of the usual three. So we sat. People from the camp came by, and had some pizza and wanted sit and talk. They told us their stories. Where they used to live, how much stuff they have in storage, how their cat means the world to them.

It was not rocket science. But it felt like something had shifted in the cosmos.

It could be the pizza. Or the fact that the new people we were talking to were old - too old to be sleeping outside in September. The weather has changed too. So new weather, new campers.

Oh yes, and we did not get a beef pizza this time. Only cheese pizzas and pepperoni pizzas.

My co-nightwatcher Michael said that was the big change. No beef - and everyone was uncorked as a result. Hmm.

Whatever. If anyone has a room to rent cheap, there are seniors out there who could use the space. That tent is going to be cold if its not already.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Church word for the day: Narthex

A breathless usher found me during the worship service yesterday. “There’s a guy here who needs to talk with you.”  Meaning, ‘There’s a homeless guy and you’re the one who knows what to do about that.’
I found the guy in the narthex (lobby), and instantly recognized him – from one of the shelters I frequent. He left that spot to move in with his brother, or so he told folks. Now he’s in a tent community.
He was surprised I remembered him, remembered details of his story. I offered to pray with him – “God grant wisdom to know Your will, and grant the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish it.” This one prayer pretty much has become my prayer for myself and others. If you know what you are supposed to do, and function in the strength provided to you from above, no matter what else is going on, you are going to be all right.
It is basically the Step 11 prayer from AA.  We all need recovery.
I have to say, I was a little disappointed that he took off, and didn’t stick around for coffee and cookies after the service. I’ll find him, hopefully.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Earthy smells

Last night was the final night of the Boat Street shelter, staffed by workers from Compass Housing. The building will be torn down this month to give way to a community park on the edge of Seattle’s ship canal, near the University of Washington. In fact, it was a perfect set-up for a shelter – nice bathrooms in abundance, two large rooms, with plenty of space to spread out. But people have to have their park I guess. Promises have been made.
So today, Nightwatch received a gift of mats. Workers from the City delivered them, and we have stashed them until another shelter opens, still a month away, maybe.
There were two truck drivers and little old me to unload the mats, with Ann keeping things straightened. The uncertain hygiene of our guests was immediately apparent. Strong human smells were evident at times as the mats were lifted and carried into the room.
God has blessed me with a strong stomach in adulthood. As a kid I was really squeamish. Now I think “That’s life!” when noxious fumes are encountered. These are people God loves, and we better not let our middle class Western notions of hygiene get in the way.
A 1st century Palestinian rabbi never ever wore deodorant.