This week I had the pleasure of officially meeting and going on a homeless outreach/walk-along patrol with Phoenix Jones and members of the Rain Hero Superhero Movement. For now I wanted to write up an account of the night here on my blog where I have complete editorial control. I have been assured that citizens who make the effort to actually go out, participate, and learn firsthand what the RCSM is all about, will be given priority for such opportunities in the future. With that in mind, I decided to stay attentive and in the moment, not even bothering to take the notepad, camera, or digital recorder out of my bag during the patrol. The patrol was live-streamed on two channels (here and here), so I figured I could always go look them up if I really needed to.
I arrived at the designated meeting place (near one of Seattle’s most iconic landmarks) with a pack full of sandwiches and Star Wars fruit snacks at twenty minutes before midnight. Waiting in the warm night air, I pondered how surreal it was that after all the years of reading comics and writing hundreds of articles about them, I was about to meet and go on patrol with people who had taken inspiration from the concept of superheroes and made it into a reality. At times these people are written off by the press and general public as silly, or worse… Indeed, many hatchet-job articles have been written about Phoenix Jones by writers who clearly knew what kind of piece they were going to write before even meeting him. I’ve met Phoenix and other members of the RCSM on many occasions (even back when he wore a fedora and didn’t have a proper suit), but never for more than just a quick handshake, “hello,” or photo. Being a writer who lives here in Seattle, I’ve also written quite a few news articles about him as well, though I always made an effort to stay fair and objective while doing so.
RCSM members started showing up right on schedule. Midnightjack arrived first and quickly located the other guests who would be coming out on the walk-along. He briefed us on the night’s patrol, answered questions, and proudly showed us various gadgets from his extensive utility belt. Soon Evocatus (“Evo”) in his wicked metal helmet that looks like something out of the Dead Space video game series, and Evasius (“Eva”) arrived. Team medic, Aqua Stone, (who actually works during the day in the medical field) appeared. El Caballero, rocking a wild green and purple getup topped off with an easy smile and a purple helmet, arrived. Before long an impressive contingent had, ahem, “assembled.”
While waiting for Phoenix to arrive, all the guests were patted down to ensure that we weren’t carrying weapons. I admit, this step in the process kind of surprised me. At first it sounds like an unorthodox policy, but if you think about it, it actually makes sense from a safety standpoint. Things could go sideways real fast if some jackass was packing a gun or something. Phoenix arrived just as the last pat-down was completed and grinned, remarking, “Sorry about that, but there’s people who would like to stab me again.” He has a great sense of humor and cracks lots of jokes, but I’m still not positive if he was joking about that or not.
Everyone was introduced and the night’s plan was laid out. We would make our way through downtown Seattle, hitting various places where homeless people camp out, and offering them food and water.
Phoenix addressed us all without wearing his cowl. His secret identity was blown long ago (though honestly, with a little research, it wasn’t impossible to figure out). Maybe that’s one reason why fans and the press really latched onto him in particular. Whatever the reason, he’s a perfect spokesman for the movement. He’s naturally charismatic, genial, and savvy.
Even though I often do homeless outreaches on my own, I was a little worried that as a writer, my motivations for coming along on this patrol might be suspect. Like I said before, in the past certain writers have been, shall we say, “less than kind,” when it comes to covering Phoenix and the RCSM. Any doubts I had were quickly discarded, as every person on patrol that night proved to be quite genuine and outgoing. Nearly everyone made an effort throughout the night to talk with me individually and make me feel welcomed. There was a definite spirit of comradery within the group which was quite infections. Stories were exchanged and jokes were cracked, but all the while everyone focused on staying safe and the tasks at hand. These were sincere, kind people, out feeding the homeless—and inviting other people to come along. That level of charity and transparency is a far cry from how real life superheroes are often portrayed in the media.
While Phoenix is the spokesman for the RCSM (and clearly the most well-known member), the overall team dynamic is important and often overlooked. Even I have been guilty of this in past articles, mentioning the other members and the RCSM as a whole, but usually in passing. When writing for a national or international audience, many readers might not be familiar with all the RCSM members—but chances are they have probably heard of Phoenix. Throughout the night, I really came to understand just how important the team dynamic really is. Each member has individual assignments and a role to play to ensure that everyone stays safe. Without a team, there’s no possible way we could have packed along as much food and water as we did—thus feeding that many more homeless people.
After a successful stop in nearby a park to distribute supplies to those who wanted them, we headed south towards Pioneer Square. Along the way the crew playfully gave Midnightjack a hard time about his belt full of gadgets (“How many hands do you think you have? Have you ever even used that baton?”), while reflecting on the past. There isn’t really a handbook for what these people do, and you can tell their experiences have taught them a lot throughout the years. Phoenix told me a story about the first time he found a dead body. Surprised, he started preforming chest compressions on this corpse (already stiff with rigor mortis). Legal precedent mandated that once he had started performing chest compressions on someone (whom he quickly realized was well beyond saving), he was obliged to keep it up until paramedics finally arrived.
I asked Phoenix about he and his wife’s (Purple Reign) recent trip to the UK. “Did you feel safer patrolling over there due to the tighter restrictions on firearms?”
“Not really,” he answered, “Lots of people over there carry knives.” He admitted they really didn’t get to see much crime during the trip (not even the UK’s infamous soccer hooligans), then went on to tell a funny anecdote about a visiting British constable turned real life superhero.
Many of the stories told were similarly humble. People have accused the RCSM, and Phoenix in particular, of only pursuing this path for attention. That accusation just doesn’t jive from what I observed. If anything, being a member of the RCSM requires quite a personal investment of time, training, and resources for equipment. If these people were only in it for some personal gain, why not sign on for the rumored reality TV show offers? Why debate and decide against company logos on their suits to help cover the costs? Why would they remain so dedicated to helping others after all this time if their hearts weren’t in the right place?
Further evidence that the RCSM has sincere motivations can be found in their sharp knowledge of the city. The patrol took us through neighborhoods that I have been walking through for over a decade, and I was really impressed by their knowledge of individual homeless people, local street dealers and shady characters, business owners, residents, and the police officers who work these beats. The only way to know such things is to spend MANY hours out there pounding the pavement—which the RCSM clearly has.
After hitting a nightly homeless encampment on the outskirts of Pioneer Square (where a former collar leered uncomfortably at Phoenix), we made our way to a park on the waterfront where many homeless people camp out. Again, this shows an intimate knowledge of the city and its homeless residents. A few months ago only a few people could usually be found camping in this park. With the influx of homeless people which happens here every summer, the park is now a hotspot. The beautiful scene of lights reflecting off the obsidian waters of the Puget Sound, with majestic multi-million dollar skyscrapers rising up to the east, stood in stark contrast to the number of people calling this place “home” for the night. Everyone was warned that this park could be rough (indeed, a man who had previously attempted to stab Phoenix was camped out here) and instructed to partner up and stay safe.
Phoenix told me how he had once come across a man openly shooting up here during another homeless outreach mission. What he said next surprised me a little. He talked about how he originally had a zero tolerance policy towards street addicts, but had quickly come to see how that ideology didn’t work in practice. The police couldn’t do much, and jail wouldn’t really help these people either. He now embraces a more progressive harm-reduction stance, offering people information about how they can get help. Apparently a few people have even taken him up on it. I find it encouraging that a person who is actually out on the streets seeing these circumstances firsthand can make that leap in logic so quickly. I wish America’s ineffectual war on drugs could catch up as fast.
Finally out of food, the homeless outreach portion of the night was drawing to a close. We regrouped and plans were discussed about how to help homeless people more in the future. The weather will change here in Seattle before too long, with blankets, sleeping bags, socks, and warm clothing becoming vital to people living out in the elements. The RCSM was already planning ahead on how to meet this future need. A call was put out through the live-streams, and plans were made for a supply drive through social networks. Plans were also discussed for the next week’s outreach effort.
Next we were offered the rare opportunity to come along on an actual crime patrol as the clubs and bars closed in Pioneer Square, which I happily agreed to tag along on. Since this piece is already getting fairly long for the average internet attention span (“Squirrel?!”), we’ll break this account up into two parts. Next time we’ll talk about the actual crime patrol, as well as learn more from RCSM members: Midnightjack, Evocatus, and Evasius. Thanks for reading. Please be sure to follow the various RCSM members on social networks to stay up to date with their efforts.