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New Nightwatch Video Now on YouTube

Nightwatch is going to be included in this year's holiday Give!Guide published by Willamette Week. (I'll let you know when it comes out.) As part of our acceptance into the Give!Guide, WW asked that we produce a promotional video for Nightwatch that it can upload to its Web site.

Click here to take a look. Enjoy.

Sometimes It Just Comes Down to a Toilet

Company’s coming. What do you do to get ready?

My mother taught me this a long time ago. You straighten up and put back in order all the messes around the house that result from everyday living. You dust. You vacuum. You clean the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom! (If anything’s going to provide a nasty surprise to a guest, it’s going to be an unclean bathroom. Sometimes hospitality all comes down just to presenting a clean bathroom.) You put guest towels out, fix some drinks and food, set out a stack of special plates and fresh napkins, and finally anticipate welcoming your guests at the door.

And then, when your company’s there, you do everything to make sure they are feeling comfortable and satisfied. Have they had enough to eat? Would they like something else? Would they like their coffee cup refilled? Could we remove those dirty dishes from their spot and get them out of their way?

This is what it means to provide hospitality. To provide hospitality is different from simplyI measure our friendship card being hospitable. Providing hospitality is proactive. It’s more than simply being friendly; it’s doing what one can to honor the guest by anticipating the guest’s needs even before the need to respond to them should arise.

We have company coming to Nightwatch every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. And it’s important for us to consider the guests who come to our Hospitality Centers with the same regard as we do guests we might have in our own home. Sure, we pass out food to them, talk with them, join in a game with them. But is that truly providing hospitality, or is that merely being hospitable?

For instance, do we welcome our Nightwatch into a clean and orderly space, just as we would our guests at home? Are we solicitous to them and bring out our best? As the evening goes on, do we clean up the messes, pick up the dirty coffee mugs, wipe down the tables once one set of guests leaves, so the space is welcoming to the next guests who come in? Do we present them with clean and fully supplied rest rooms? (Sometimes, you know, all hospitality can just be measured by the quality we provide in the rest rooms.)

Consider this: do you take the same measures in creating a pleasing environment for our guests at Nightwatch, making them feel as if they have privileged us to be there, as you would a special guest, or do you simply think of them as poor folks needing to “serviced,” then be done with it as quickly as possible? Does it never occur to you that they may be worth the special effort of cleaning, straightening up, offering a smile to even the most difficult of them, because they are, after all, “only homeless people.”

Then that might be offering charity, but it’s not hospitality.

True hospitality is never about just “getting by;” it’s about providing the very best of ourselves and all we have to give.

Because this week, once again, company is coming.

I didn’t know his real name, so I had come to identify him as “Mr. Tats.” To see him, you’d know why. His body was festooned with tattoos, the most obvious of which was an angular abstraction that covered half his face. (My own thoughts upon first encountering him? “Ah, the foolishness of youth! If this fellow ever does get his act together, who would ever hire him looking like that?”)

It was pretty evident to me from the beginning that Mr. Tats was an addict—probably to heroin or some other opiate, as he spent as he spent a lot of time sleeping at the Hospitality Center, and during the times he was awake, he was often heavy-lidded. We had had several confrontations, mostly over his inability to follow rules or observe boundaries. For instance, I had to keep chasing him out of the kitchen, as I’d find him in their rifling through the refrigerator (“But I’m hungry!” he protested) as if he were in his own home.

It’s too bad his drug habit put Mr. Tats and me so often in conflict. For he also displayed sides to himself that prompted me to think I’d like to know him more deeply. There was the time he passed out on the sofa while reading a volume by John Shelby Spong. That’s certainly not the kind of reading material you find in the hands of every Nightwatch guest. Very intriguing!

But the showdown finally came. One evening this summer, Mr. Tats spent an unusually long amount of time in the rest room. When a volunteer went into the rest room afterwards, he found evidence that Mr. Tats had been using his drugs on premises. We have very few things that result in a permanent exclusion from Nightwatch—but that’s one of them. I confronted Mr. Tats on it and told him he had to leave. He denied it—vehemently—and called me a few choice names as he stormed out the door.

That, I thought, was that.

But one evening a few weeks ago, I had finished cleaning up the Hospitality Center after we had closed and was coming out of my office to head home. Who should be coming down the hallway but Mr. Tats!

Immediately I was taken aback. What was he doing here?  Didn’t I tell him he was excluded?

Then I realized what was going on. He was coming from the direction of the St. Stephen’s sanctuary. Every evening the church hosts a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in that space. Mr. Tats was pushing a cart topped with coffee supplies that the N.A. group uses for its meetings. He was very subdued and polite. “Do you know where this goes?” he asked.

“The N.A. group has a supply closet,” I said. “Come on. I’ll show you.”

They say an addict will never seek help until he’s hit such a bottom he knows there’s no alternative. Maybe for Mr. Tats it was being kicked out of Nightwatch.

Who knows?

Last weekend's attendance at the Hospitality Center downtown was exceptionally light. Some of that can be explained by the fact that it is the the beginning of the month, and when guests get their monthly support checks, a baloney sandwich isn't as appealing to them when they have money for other things.

 

But something else was apparently going on. Even before we opened Thursday evening, one of our guests who was waiting in line outside identified it. "It's Tri-Met," he said. "Their new policies. No more Fareless Square since September 1. I know of twelve guys myself who told me they can't come to Nightwatch anymore because they can't afford it. They can't afford to pay $2.50 to come down here every night. That's five bucks round trip!"Goodbye Fareless Square

 

This prompts two observations:

  1. The homeless population is ever fluid, ever dynamic. When Nightwatch was founded 31 years ago, downtown was the epicenter of Portland's homelessness. Today, only 1/5 of the city's homeless are located downtown. Two years ago we acquired our Mobile Hospitality Center precisely because we could see how things were trending. These days, to concentrate all our activities in a permanently-situated bricks-and-mortar center would be sheer folly--doing less and less good for those who need us, while our own fortunes dwindle. Indeed, the changes with Tri-Met portend that Nightwatch itself needs to become even more dynamic, getting the Mobile Hospitality Center out to even more places, as we now know there are those out there--at least "twelve guys"--who need us but who now just can't reach us.
  2. We need to take ever-more-seriously how much public policy decisions, though they may not be particularly aimed at the people we serve, end up affecting them profoundly nonetheless. I have to confess that I myself, while aware that Tri-Met was going to be changing its fare schedule, didn't think much about it. I myself don't ride Tri-Met very often--and while I enjoyed Fareless Square from time to time, I knew I could adjust without it. It never even occurred to me what a huge difference the Tri-Met changes would make in our guests' lives. Now we're in a major election year, with all sorts of public policy changes being proposed by the various candidates. The human tendency is to vote self-interest. Would our choices be tempered in any way if we thought through how any of the proposed policy changes would affect the lives of our guests?

The New York Times carried a relevant column yesterday by Ginia Bellafante, pointing out that the amount of charitable giving never makes up for any cuts that are made in the public social safety net. For one thing, the bulk of charitable giving doesn't go to organizations that serve the poor. Rather, it goes to arts, cultural, educational, medical, and religious institutions. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that of the top 49 charitable gifts New Yorkers made so far this year, not a single one was directed toward social services.

 

But of course charitable giving is not likely to make up the gap! Consider this yourselves: with the Tri-Met cuts, would you personally be willing to make an extra donation of $180 a week ($5 x 12 guys x 3 nights), just to get our missing guests back downtown so they could enjoy the Hospitality Center?

 

I know that I alone couldn't carry that load. I suspect that you couldn't either. But there are other decisions we make beyond writing a check that go either towards helping or hurting our guests--such as whether to pay attention to what policies are being passed down by our major institutions, or what people we elect to put into office--that really have a major impact, too.

A few weeks ago I told the story of our guest Stormy, who was so moved when she saw the little memorial we had created for Niki Powell that she immediately burst into tears and removed a ring from her finger, telling me, "I want you to send that to Niki's mom."

Last week we received this card:

Dear Friends at Operation Nightwatch --

 Thank you so much for your support during this most difficult time. All your notes were so comforting to me and Avram . . . so heartwarming to know Niki had such loving friends.

 I also pray that you all are comforted by the Grace of God & by each other.Stormy's ring

 A special thanks also to Stormy for the silver ring. It sits directly in front of a photo of Niki on the little shrine we have created.

 Please keep our beautiful daughter & friend, Niki, in your hearts & prayers. Please continue sharing generosity & compassion in your lives, thus honoring the memory of our special young woman.

 Many blessings & God's love & protection surround you always.

 Janice (Niki's mom)