"Sing Us a Song . . ."
- Published on Thursday, 23 May 2013 09:48
- Written by Gary Davis
"I didn't know you did this at Nightwatch," more than one of our newcomers to the Downtown Hospitality Center said on Saturday night. "If I knew you did this, I'd be here every night."
The "this" they were referring to was karaoke. And, no, we don't do it every night. Actually, we only bring out the karaoke machine two or three times a year. As I tell our guests, "If we did it all the time, that would take all the fun out of it."
And when we do it, they sure do have fun. (Take a look at the video: https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=4969169268590.)
We may not do karaoke every night, but we do strive at Nightwatch to be a place where (in whatever we do) our guests can feel honored as human beings again, rather than as the objects of disdain they often feel like in the ways they're treated on the streets. That our guest Jean would pick Billy Joel's "Piano Man" as his karaoke selection in the video has a certain resonance, for our Hospitality Centers are like place in the lyrics where folks go "to forget about life for a while."
That's something our guests can certainly be assured we do, with or without music, every night our doors are open.
Little Steps . . .
- Published on Thursday, 23 May 2013 09:45
- Written by Gary Davis
You have to possess a lot of patience when you’re in this business.
David is a familiar fixture who has been coming to Nightwatch for years. However, he interacts with no one and no one interacts with him.
Part of the reason is David’s evident mental illness. Her often just wanders the room, muttering to himself. Often, he spontaneously laughs as if he has just told himself a good joke.
But a few years ago, we also discovered that David is stuck behind a significant language barrier. David is Korean, and the only way we were able to identify his ethic background was that we had an exchange student from Korea who volunteered with us a few years ago, and when David heard her sampling her Korean with some other guests, he gravitated to her as an iron filing to a magnet, and words cascaded out of him.
A man with mental illness stuck in a culture where he doesn’t have facility with the language: talk about someone who’s socially isolated!
Precisely because of that, I’ve always made a point of saying, “Hello, David,” whenever I’ve seen him at the Hospitality Center or on the streets. For the longest time, he wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence, but would just walk by. Still, I persisted. I considered it a small victory when he began throwing me a glance upon my greeting. And I can’t tell you how much it meant when he began attaching a slight smile to the glance.
And then, Friday night, David spoke! I had decided to entertain our downtown guests with a movie that evening. The movie was Skyfall, the latest in the James Bond series. And after the movie had been running some minutes David approached, eyes wide. “Double-oh-seven?” he asked me.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Double-oh-seven!”
David responded with a grin on his face.
How to Prove a Negative?
- Published on Monday, 06 May 2013 21:07
- Written by Gary Davis
I wonder whether the number of Portland's homeless deaths doesn't say something about the success of Nightwatch.
That may seem like an odd thing to say. But I don't say it in order to be intentionally provocative. Rather, the question sprung to my own mind because of the following:
As they did last year, Multnomah County and Street Roots are compiling a report on the number of deaths that occurred in the previous twelve months among those living on the streets. Because of the stake Nightwatch has in the issue because of our annual Memorial Service, we were asked to participate. Nightwatch chaplain Roger Fuchs and I attended.
Street Roots naturally had an interest in reporting the story and in order to humanize the statistics that would be presented, and Roger and I were asked if we could give them a lead on one or two of the 100+ homeless folks who were on this year's memorial list so SR could dig more deeply and tell a couple of individual stories.
But here's the thing: both Roger and I surveyed the list that Roger himself had compiled from various sources, and neither of us knew any of the individuals on it! To our knowledge, none of the deaths among the homeless in the past year occurred to anyone who had ever frequented Nightwatch.
Initially, I was embarrassed. Here we were, the ones responsible for memorializing these folks, the ones who pride ourselves on building relationships with those on the streets, and we couldn't say we knew a single one! I felt pretty dumb.
Only later did this other thought strike me: maybe if these folks we had memorialized only had relationships with others, they wouldn't have ended up on the list. Maybe the reason neither Roger or I knew anyone on the list was precisely because those who came to Nightwatch were being so sustained by the relationships they found here that they were far-less-likely to be candidates for wearing a toe-tag in the morgue.
It's impossible to prove a negative, of course. But who knows how many lives Nightwatch might be saving because we have volunteers listening to them as they air their woes, we have medical assistances to make sure they're maintaining their medication levels, and we generally provide an atmosphere that serves as a haven from despair?
The Measurement of Moral Deficiency
- Published on Monday, 29 April 2013 10:35
- Written by Gary Davis
You may have heard the story this week about the hacker who accessed the Twitter account of the Associated Press and planted the bogus story that explosions had occurred at the White House and President Obama had been wounded. Within twenty seconds after the tweet appeared, the stock market fell 150 points.
All of the news stories I read and heard about this incident focused on the issue of Internet security: how could someone have possibly broken into the A.P.’s account? But that’s not the issue that was raised in my mind when I heard the news. I was more blown away by the behavior of the stock market traders. I know that if someone had fed me the news story that the White House was under attack, I would drop everything—stopped in my steps (at least for several moments) by the horror of it all. What did it all mean? What would be the implications of this attack on for our country, for our future?
But nothing seemed to stop the traders. No pause for them! They just furiously kept trading. Their only concern: How best to minimize losses? How best to make money?
It never ceases to be about money.
Contrast that with this story, which also appeared this week—a story I’m guessing you were less likely to have heard about:
They don’t have a home, and most just own the clothes on their backs, but a group of homeless men at a shelter in Missouri have raised hundreds of dollars for a little girl with cancer.
When the guys at City Union Mission in Kansas City, Mo., found out about Payton Adams, a 4-year-old with cancer, they resolved to help the little girl’s family pay for her mounting medical expenses by collecting spare change, fox4kc.com reports.
“It just warms my heart and makes me want to cry,” Payton’s mom, Leilani, told the news outlet.
The shelter, where the men launched the “Pennies for Payton” campaign, celebrated its 89th birthday this year and provides emergency shelter, medical services, life-skills classes and career development opportunities to its residents.
Since launching the fundraiser, the generous donors have handed quite a large chunk of change to the struggling family. Leilani told KSHB that she’s walked out with as much as $500 at times.
“It has really been a blessing,” she told the news outlet.
People often treat those on the streets as if their homelessness is due to some sort of moral deficiency.
In these two news stories, I would raise the question as to who the truly morally deficient ones are.
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ (Luke 21:1-4)
What Is It About Kids These Days?
- Published on Monday, 22 April 2013 17:42
- Written by Gary Davis
It’s no doubt the fate of every generation to fret over the habits and behavior of the one that’s coming up after it. I know my own parents would often shake their heads over my brother and myself in a “what-is-it-about-kids-these-days” sort of way; and I’ve been known to do it myself when my ears rebel against the non-musicality of many current Top 40 hits or when I see today’s kids tethered to their smartphones as if they were critical life-support systems.
And yet, what is Nightwatch about if it’s not about busting stereotypes? And I’m here to celebrate the “awesomeness” of this upcoming generation. (“Awesomeness” would be a word of their choosing.) To be sure, Nightwatch would be a very different place without its young people. The age of our average volunteer has plummeted over the last few years as we have added to our roster an army of students from the local colleges and universities. We even have a group that serves with us monthly traveling all the way from Ecola Bible School in Cannon Beach! These young people bring an energy and enthusiasm that, I have to admit, boosts me in my own.
I have two further examples just from this past week. On Wednesday I spent the morning at St. Mary’s Academy which was observing Poverty Awareness Day. I gave presentations on Operation Nightwatch to three different classrooms during the day, but I was aided immensely by a group of St. Mary’s students who had done their own research on Nightwatch and bookended my presentations with their own insights about our work and mission. Their classmates proved themselves to be fully engaged, asking good questions and expressing their own interest in becoming future volunteers.
Saturday was our annual benefit concert featuring Portland Chamber Music. But what also distinguished the event was that it served as the launch for our Street Swags campaign, through which we hope to raise enough (at $90 apiece) to acquire 100 of the combination bedrolls/personal shelters to serve our guests. By the end of the evening, we met 22% of our goal. And the credit for it goes to Brian Carter, a University of Portland sophomore, who jumpstarted our efforts after they had lain dormant for quite some time. A fellow UP student, Aurora Myers, has also jumped on board, working with various crowdfunding sites to promote our campaign over the Internet to build a much wider support base.
So I would say not to fret so much about our young people. They can be an impressive lot.
And let’s face it: as much as our parents fretted over us, we turned out OK, didn’t we?