Since I’m back two months early from my Alaska paddle plans, I’m now shifting my attention to bringing some nutritious meals to the hungry people who live on our streets. I’ve been knocking on restaurant and grocery doors in an effort to involve others. Three restaurants have agreed to help us out with a pot of soup or rice. Thank you! (You know who you are.) My goal is to have a soup van deliver hot soup to the homeless once a week on Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, and Kingston. I’m shooting for the first of October. (It’ll be getting cold about then.)
I’m not trying to feed everyone. Rather, I’m trying to make a one-on-one connection with some of these folks. When they ask, “How did you get off the street?” I get to tell my story.
My board was loaded, and I was excited and ready to take off. I knew a race like this would take everything I had. Less than 100% would mean I wouldn’t make it. I’d practiced several crossings from Bainbridge to Edmonds and back, to get in some distance. I’d trained during the winter and in weather worse than the rain and wind of the event. But I couldn’t risk injuring the board with rocky landings and wasn’t so prepared for them.
After departing Bainbridge Island, I made a stop on the way to Port Townsend to make adjustments to my gear. In making my way to the rocky shore, I lost my footing on a rock. The rocks were slippery and they were big. My leg slid right into them as I got off the board for the beach. I felt it right away in my new hip and new knee and knew I was in trouble. I made it onto the beach and limped to a store for some ice. The ice got the swelling down in my foot, but the rest of me was hurting. Bad. After a day of rest, I tested myself by making a short paddle. My leg was still in pain. I was no longer 100%. I knew then that I wouldn’t make it across the Straight to Canada, which would be at least ten hours of paddling. I knew also that I wanted to be able to live and fight another day.
I keep remembering that the main reason I started this was to be able to tell my story to more people. I accomplished that, and very successfully. Extreme Sobriety and my rescue from homelessness got a lot of press.
I can have all the heart in the world, but my legs just refused to let me race. I’m home, I’m regrouping, I’m continuing to do all I can to encourage veterans and homeless people and anyone else who will listen to me. I’ll go to Odyssey School next week and tell the kids who have been part of this, that sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan.
Next year, I’ll hope to paddle the Seventy/48 from Tacoma to Pt Townsend, and then from Pt Townsend to Victoria. Maybe I’ll do one, maybe both. It’s not been done on a prone paddle board — yet. I’ll do it for the same reason as this year — to tell my story and to remind others that there are many veterans and mentally ill people still living homeless on the streets of our cities. They need our help. It may take a couple of attempts, but I’ll keep trying.
It was a typically gray, misty, and windy June day at Bainbridge Island’s Fay Bainbridge beach. Friends and acquaintances gathered to watch Steve embark upon the adventure of his life. Among these people were students from Ordway Middle School who had helped him collect and bring socks to folks living on the streets. There were men and women from his church, and friends from various places on and off the Island.
Everyone was cheerful and excited; and some, a little anxious. Father Mitchell of his home parish read from the Gospel of Mark about another sea passage. All were quiet as he said a prayer for Steve’s safety, then blessed The Paddler and his board.
Before wading into the choppy Puget Sound, Steve took a couple of minutes to thank everyone for their support and to say that the main part of this mission has been accomplished. Together, this community and many more have helped to get the message out that there are many veterans and mentally ill people still living homeless on the streets of our country’s cities. They need our help. A closer look at his paddle board shows two rows of silver bands with the names and I.D. numbers of American service people who have fought and died for our country. He’ll remember these veterans as he pushes his body across the cold Pacific waters.
“Whatever else happens on this journey is extra,” Steve said.
Packed, blessed and ready to go, Steve secured three large bags to his board. They contained everything he’ll need for the next couple of months – except for food and water. These essentials, he’ll replenish at many stops along the way.
Steve turned for a final wave, stretched himself across his board, and paddled smoothly from the shore. He’s trained hard for this. He’s exactly where he wants to be.
The race officially begins at 5:00 a.m, Thursday, June 14. A beacon will be attached to Steve’s board for tracking. Regular updates of his whereabouts will be posted at https://r2ak.com. He’s listed under Team Extreme Sobriety.
This alley brought back memories as I walked by it last week. I slept there years ago, when I was living on the street. “Thank God for what He saved me from!”
Today I stopped by the Real Change magazine depot downtown and dropped off some rain gear. The guys and gals there who sell the magazines and who really want to help their lives, can do it. To them I say, “There is a God, and He will help you, but you have to ask, and you have to mean it!!!!
Heroins’ province is no longer the seedy underbelly of the inner city. It’s now in your own suburban neighborhood, maybe even next door, and certainly in your local high schools. These kids are starting at an average age of 14. A few words about heroin: It’s cheap. It’s deadly. After one or two hits, the user is powerfully addicted. Further, he has no idea where the stuff he’s taking came from, or what’s in it. So every fix incurs a massive risk. The high that it delivers is euphoric, far greater than the high one gets from RX pain meds.
Take note of the man hanging around your local grocery store. Ask yourself, “Why is a grown man hanging in the parking lot after 3:00 near the schools and popular hangouts?” For Islanders, the ferry terminal is another regular spot for drug deals. Then there are kids selling to other kids. Talk to your teens about heroin and let them tell you what they know about what goes on at school.
Anyone who lives or works in any major city deals with homelessness on a regular basis. In traveling more than a few blocks to lunch, the office, or the bus stop, one cannot help but notice the expectant mother sitting at the curb, the scruffy man shaking a paper cup, or a body curled up in a sleeping bag. The beggar, like anyone else, has a right to be there. The difference between him and most others traveling the sidewalks is their destinations. The homeless men and women set up their signs, pose their pets, spread their blankets, and get to work.
Our thoughts are interrupted by their disheveled appearances and needy pleas. We immediately sort through a rush of uncomfortable feelings, running the gamut of annoyance to compassion. We recognize that these people, too, are human. The beggar quietly or not so quietly demands a response. We toss some change at the extended cup or look the other way. Sooner, or later, most of us simply ignore them.
Steve Rhoades spent fifteen years busking and panhandling in cities all over the country.
After another fifteen years of reorienting his life in a quiet community across the Puget Sound from the same city, he went back. He returned to beat the same streets in an effort to help others do what he finally did.
Bringing hats, chocolates, and a fold-up chair for sitting and chatting, he works hard to convince them that they don’t have to live that way. They can return to sanity and get their lives back.
In Steve’s candid and exclusive interview with Extreme Sobriety – the non-profit outreach he has since founded – he offers an inside perspective of the Seattle street life and why many remain homeless. He answers the ongoing question of how we ought to respond to those living on the streets. Should we give or not give to the panhandler? Click here for the Interview.
The other day someone called to say that there was someone on Bainbridge who was panhandling. Steve went to check out the situation. After a bit of conversation, the man told him that “he was raising money for an Uber ride,” and that he’d raised $60 in two hours. Steve’s take? The fella’s way is still working for him. He’s doing fine. Steve moved on. He’s looking for the man or woman who wants to get free of such a life.
Steve spent this morning at the Bremerton Naval Hospital detox unit, sharing with the patients, his story of addiction and of getting free. When he left, he thought, “No one asked any questions, no one seemed to connect with what I shared.” Feeling discouraged, he figured that maybe they’re not ready to take the hard steps that sobriety requires. It takes, as he’s said, ‘changing your whole life.’ He wondered if it mattered that he went.
“Maybe I was able to plant a seed,” he hoped, after giving the meeting some thought. Maybe another day one of the men or women will remember something meaningful that was said or felt. Maybe it mattered…
Steve collected 441 pairs of socks from the seventh- and eighth-grade students of Odyssey Middle School on Bainbridge Island. The goals is to collect a total of 600 pairs before June 15. He will take these socks to the homeless folks living in our extended community.
Thank you kids, for all your heart!
The terrific volunteers at Churchmouse Yarns & Teas on Bainbridge Island knitted these wool hats. They then gave them to me to take to the people on the streets of Seattle. What big hearts!
The students at Odyssey School on Bainbridge Island collected socks for Extreme Sobriety for me to hand out downtown. Here’s the next Generation helping out folks they will never meet.