A History of Operation Nightwatch
One evening in 1967, Reverend Bud Palmberg of Mercer Island Covenant Church found himself on a mission: He was combing the city in search of a runaway parishioner. His journey took him to some of the meaner streets of downtown Seattle. While wandering through rowdy Pioneer Square late at night, he encountered a world far removed from the quiet suburban community served by his church.
Ultimately, the young man was found. But the experience lingered in Pastor Bud's mind. Seattle needed a night ministry like the ones he had heard of in San Francisco. Right here in his own city, he realized there was an urgent need to mobilize people to support and serve those who may go unnoticed: He envisioned an organization that would help provide Christ's presence to the people on the streets late at night. The word went out among Seattle-area clergy and religious orders, people were trained, and soon the nighttime ministry of Operation Nightwatch began.
At first, the volunteer street ministers ran the organization themselves with a limited budget and minimal structure. In a short time, blessed by the tremendous volunteer response, more formal arrangements were required. The Reverend Norm Riggins was hired as the first paid director and Operation Nightwatch was established as a legal 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization in 1976.
It's been forty years since Pastor Bud took his first late night walk to the streets. And since then, hundreds of ministers, deacons, nuns, and seminary students have been involved with the street ministry. Every week, ministers still go out after 8:30 p.m. until midnight or later to provide a compassionate and loving response to the people they encounter on the streets.
And while the street ministry continued to develop, Operation Nightwatch evolved in other ways. In 1982, Nightwatch performed the first physical count of people on the streets at night, giving birth to what is today the One Night Count (conducted by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness).
In the late 1970's, Nightwatch started placement service to the homeless late at night, after the shelters traditionally closed their doors. Each night at 9:00 p.m. the Dispatch Center seeks space for up to 190 homeless men and women. Single adults are dispatched to area shelters. And hundreds of volunteers from churches and community groups provide food, assist with shelter placement, distribute blankets and supplies, and talk with clients about faith and life.
There are not enough shelters in Seattle. Many nights each month, Nightwatch must turn people away after filling up all the area shelters. Responding to this need, Nightwatch funds overnight shelter for 100 men and 40 women on the floors of other daytime programs and a downtown church. When all the shelters are filled to capacity, clients are offered a blanket, a Metro bus ticket and a prayer.
In March 1999, God provided Operation Nightwatch the means to purchase the property at 302 14th Ave S. The first floor has been remodeled into the current Dispatch Center, while the upper two floors provide rental housing for 24 low-income seniors.
P.O Box 21181 . Seattle, WA 98111 . 206-323-4359

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