Stories

They all have names

Every homeless person has a name. They came from some sort of family. Every homeless person has hopes, dreams, and stories to tell. Last night I ran into a guy I’ve known for almost 20 years. He used to work at Nightwatch. He hasn’t been able to work, due to a health problem. Last night was his first night of being homeless in a tent community. “Frank” thought our chance encounter was proof that God was looking out for him.…

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gomer

Last night an ancient one, barely able to walk shuffled across the wet sidewalk to the front door of Nightwatch. His cab ride was paid for by an exasperated hospital social worker. The hospital didn’t want him. The shelters are all full. The boarding house with cheap rent is torn down. He has no friend to call. No loving wife or sister or daughter with a couch, for a night or two. He has only the gray-wool blanket given to…

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Psalm from the streets

Even when the knees hurt The hard drive crashes The shelter for 75 vulnerable men is cast into uncertainty; Even when the bank account is low and the car is no longer driveable, the rain is cold and the ice cream is forbidden; Even then, O Lord, will I praise you. Your works are marvelous, revealed in the smile of a stranger on the bus who jostled me here. My pen went awry on the page but the amends were…

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Rest in peace, Norm Riggins

Rev. Norm Riggins was the original Nightwatch executive director. He started volunteering for Nightwatch, going out on the streets late at night, sometime in the late 1960s, early 1970s. He was pastor of the former Maple Leaf Evangelical Church, near Northgate in north Seattle. He was hired to be the first paid staff person for Nightwatch in 1976. He left a comfortable thriving church for the uncertain night time streets. Norm was the guy who recruited me to go on…

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Balance

The art of balancing a life beset by odd angles of poverty, illness domestic violence bad brain chemistry poor nutrition lack of sleep humiliation, sorrow, PTSD, addiction, learning disabilities, social anxiety bad luck; It’s more than I could contend with. And it is understandable when the whole thing comes tumbling down. But God bless the artists in camp who set up a demonstration, keeping things in balance against all odds; God bless them for setting rock on rock even after…

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Lost family member

Homeless people are attached to their pets, just like the rest of us. When a dog dies, the whole camp suffers. But what happens next is tragic. How can you properly dispose of the much-loved remains? Last night someone in a homeless camp asked me if I could help in any way with the cremation. “Let me find out. Call me in the morning.” I had to think about it. I got no idea what a cremation for a pet…

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It gets personal

Twice in the last month I’ve run into people who are friends of mine. They are guys who have celebrated holidays at my house, volunteered at Nightwatch, eaten lunch with me numerous times. When I encountered them in their new situation, it was shocking. Immediately, my anxiety level went up. I find myself fretting about how we can help them. One needs medical attention, but has to agree to it. The other could easily live in my basement, if I…

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Stereotypes? Nope.

Two weeks ago I returned from my Thursday night rounds, visiting homeless camps and shelters. It was about ten to midnight. At Nightwatch, all the homeless guests were fed and sent off to shelter. There was one last guy – a young man – sitting at one of the tables, pouring over a math textbook. He’s doing algebra problems. He cackles as he figures one out. I’ve been working with homeless people for more than 30 years. This was a…

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I didn’t look

I didn’t look. Stopped at the end of the freeway ramp, on my way, I didn’t look at the person standing by the side of the road with a sign. I didn’t see him, not at all. Not looking is second nature these days, when someone is asking for help by the side of the road. And so, I did not look. No need for the shrug, the nod, the single index finger lifted off the steering wheel or the…

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