Stories

Why, oh why, didn’t I study Spanish in high school?

In 1995, I was going out on the street with a new minister, and we were checking out the 611 Tavern. It was what we called a “mixed” bar, meaning it welcomed both gay and straight drinkers. Beer, wine, pool tables, pull tabs, and dark inside. It’s long gone. My buddy and I were soon being harassed by an agitated and very drunk Hispanic guy. I’m not sure if he was mad because a couple of priests were in the…

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Regrets

There was a gathering of activists from the faith community yesterday, to meet with the new Mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan. I had two minutes. I blathered, dang it. The one thing I should have said: “Stop sweeping homeless camps if you don’t have options to offer people!” Every day outreach workers and police are identifying places where homeless people have taken up residence. They are given advanced warning (or so we are told) in the hopes that they will…

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Inconvenient

Apparently some folks in local government came to see one of the homeless programs after hours. It must have shook them. Some funding has been restored. It wasn’t our program, so I won’t name them. There’s something about looking into the faces of the people being served – old, physically worn, disabled, broken. This will clear bureaucratic fog, to meet some homeless people at 10:30 at night. Tell us what to tell homeless people at the end of the night…

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Move on

After my interaction last night with a homeless woman, I’m curious about what kind of society we want. Her husband is on dialysis. He lost his job because of this. Which means they lost their place to live. And so they wait. It will take several months to get any disability, and who in the world will rent to them with such limited income, and a black hole in their rental record? I have heard neighborhood people say, “If you…

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Saving a life

One evening out on Capitol Hill, we ran into a guy that I hadn’t seen in at least two years. He was happy to see us doing the same thing he remembered us doing. I was glad to know he was alive, and we spent some time catching up on where he had been the last couple years. He filled me in on the details and then got somber real quick. “You know Ben,” he said, “I still remember that…

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That smile!

I noticed a homeless guy last week. We were moving mats out of storage into a big rental truck, and something about it struck him funny. Maybe because we were a rag-tag group, and not the usual types for manual labor. I could tell we had struck a funny-bone moment, and said something to him. It was a pleasant exchange. Then he was back in a doorway this week. Not doing anything, not camping out. Just hanging. I said hi…

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Socks

One of my favorite things about being out on the street is when we hand someone a pair of socks, and they are so in need of a new pair, they immediately pull their shoes off and change them out, in between words of disbelief and gratitude. ‘55’ was no different. That was the name he gave us, not that one in particular, but a number. We continued chatting for a bit as he took his boot off. He pulled…

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Reconnecting

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 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…

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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…

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Hollow

A crane stands in a hollow, where there was once a small apartment building. Families lived there. One family moved quite suddenly. They were there, then they were gone. Like the building. Like the family’s daughter found in a box in the closet after the parents disappeared. She is gone, the family is gone, the building is gone. No matter what fills up this particular hole in the ground on East Union, I will remember. Sometimes hollow places are sacred.

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