Please Know...

As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Saying Goodbye...

It was a fairly typical day on Kensington Ave up until that moment when I pulled over to call my sister Kim right about here to sing happy birthday to her.  We chatted for a bit and then said our goodbyes. 

I sat for a moment and just watched the flow of life around me.  People were cooling off in the opened fire hydrant that had a fountain nozzle attached.  Cars driving past would slow down for the free wash or drive around it as if trying to pass a slow car.

Deciding it was time to leave, I slowly drove south on "The Ave" keeping an eye out in hopes of finding specific people with whom I've been privileged to know and love.  "Rose" was talking to a man on the opposite side of the road.  Having recently developed the skill of mid-city-block u-turns, I did just that, pulled up to this curb and Rose stepped forward to lean in my open passenger door window.  That's not an ideal pose for my car to be in with any young lady.  Police tend to think it is the start of a "date."  I hopped out, gave Rose a hug and was introduced to the man, a relative from the area.  We chatted for a bit and then said our goodbyes.

I rounded the corner off of The Ave and turned onto Ruth Street.  I got about halfway down that block when I saw a man close to death by overdose being tended to by one man from a car that had stopped and two other men from the street.  One Narcan had already been given by one of the homeless men.  These three really did not know what should be done at such a time and so I took over and they   One called 911.  After about 4 minutes from the first Narcan, I provided a second one from my supply.  With barely any responding to the Narcan evident, I started planning on running to my car fifty feet away to get more from my supply. 
gladly let me.

Just then, a young lady of the streets who I've never seen prior to this moment was just getting out of a man's car, presumably from a 'date.'  She came over with her own supply of Narcan which we almost used. 
The formerly almost dead man opened his eyes and looked at me with a VERY shocked look.  I looked right at him as he laid on this sidewalk and said something like "Welcome back from being almost dead!"  He stood up, got back into the Jeep from whence he had arrived.  The two homeless men wanted to get out of there before the ambulance showed up.  We said our goodbyes.

The formerly almost dead man, his driver and I chatted for a bit and his driver said he would take the man to the local hospital.  With that, I encouraged this man to get the help he needs.  He agreed and we said our goodbyes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Thoughts on "Each night, Philly jails release scores of inmates without returning their IDs, cash or phones"

Thank you Pranshu Verma, for your recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled:

Click the title to read the full article:

This article highlights one man's exit from the Philadelphia jail system and the consequences of not being given his personal effects upon discharge.  It's very well written.

I'd like to review one of the lines in this article that caught my attention and offer some additional insights:

…But minutes after his release about 10:30 p.m., Garrett realized that his identification, $80 in cash, and other personal belongings were still locked up in the cashier’s office — the place where prison facilities store personal property of inmates until they are released — and he wouldn’t be able to get them until the next morning when the office reopened.

…He wouldn't be able to get them until the next morning when the office reopened…

This gentleman had a home to go to and that's great for him.  The people of the streets of Kensington who are in the addiction phase of their Substance Use Disorder do not have that option. 

Here is how I have described this situation to three Philadelphia Court Judges when I've spoken on behalf of people of the streets:

These men and women are dealing with Substance Use Disorder, an officially recognized condition as described in the DSM-5.  Virtually every illegal act that lands them in jail and the court system has its roots in this medical disorder.  Most are reliant on Medicaid to cover their medical expenses.  If given the slightest opportunity to do so, their Substance Use Disorder will win the battle in demanding that they continue to "take her medicine"[1] even if they absolutely determine to the deepest depth of their soul that they will never again do so.  

To whatever extent this court can serve as their de facto physician in bringing about healing, I urgently and humbly ask that when the time is right, they would be transferred directly to an appropriate care facility that will serve them in a way that is best for them and will truly help them achieve their goals for a new, healthy, normal and productive life. 

In the absence of a predetermined place for these members of our society to go directly from their current incarceration, with the judge having declared them discharged in the morning hours of their day in court, they will be released from their incarceration any time between 7pm and the middle of the night.[2]  They will be provided with a bus token or two for Septa (public transportation) and will have little choice but to return to Kensington.  They will be released without whatever personal effects they had on them when brought to jail.  These items, which include their ID, some degree of cash and occasionally a cell phone will need to be picked up on some future business day between the hours of 9:00am and 1:30pm. 

If they even bother to make this trip back to jail, they will be required to hop on the visitor's bus and return to the same building in which they had been incarcerated.  To make this journey, they must raise the funds[3] for Septa to the jail on State Road, enter the visitor's reception trailer, provide their ID (which they are coming to get) or their jail number which they might not know.  They then wait for the bus along with the folks who are coming to visit loved ones.  This transportation may be a window barred prisoner transport van or a civilian style small bus.  They then enter the same building in which they have been incarcerated, interact with the guards in the room who had just the day before held them captive, go to the cashier's window, identify themselves, get their belongings and then sit in the visitor's waiting room until the next prisoner transport van/civilian style small bus arrives with new visitors and will then be transported back to the parking lot.  This round trip on the jail campus could easily be over an hour.  From there, with their substance use having restarted during the night, they will hop back on public transportation and go back to Kensington.

Between their moment of release and retrieving their personal belongings, upon return to the familiarity of the streets of Kensington, with hunger setting in and the call of Substance Use Disorder screaming for attention, in the case of a lady in this situation, she will have little choice but to succumb to her nightmare of "dating" (the very crime that may have landed her in jail and of which she has just been released) so as to gain a few dollars for food and heroin.

Because it will be too late to find a shelter bed,  they will have to find some step or back ally or piece of sidewalk to consume there first doses of heroin[4] and lay down for this round of homelessness.

Wouldn't it be better to provide personal effects upon release?

[1] This is not a weakness within the person.  It is a recognized pattern for any person who would be in this situation.                 
[2] I have been there to pick up three people upon release from RCF. The earliest was approximately midnight.  The latest was after 2:00am.
[3]Ladies will need to 'date' AKA prostitute themselves to raise the needed funds.
[4] First doses following abstinence from the drug run a much higher risk of causing deadly overdose.

Friday, August 9, 2019

12 to 14 Weeks!

As you read this, “Natalie” and “Melanie,” two very intelligent women who are reliant on Medicaid, are sitting in their respective jail cells waiting for evaluations and court-ordered inpatient treatment to which they will be transferred by guards in a prison van with barred windows while wearing handcuffs.  Their combined wait time is 12 to 14 weeks. 

Their cells are nothing more than oversized toilet stalls with no privacy walls around the toilet.  There are two cots with very thin mattresses and one sheet for her and one for her previously unknown cellmate.  There is little to no therapy nor inpatient treatment happening for these women who suffer from Substance Use Disorder.  They sit in their cells minute after hour after day after week after month until the court has identified a placement for them.

Two quotes from people going through this process:

“This is a time of mental rot.”

“This process only builds up more resentment in people who are already dealing with resentment from the emotional traumas that got them here in the first place.”

Is this any way to treat human beings who are suffering from a disease that is officially recognized as such by the medical community?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

This Week with Tabitha and Melanie

I started working as a driver at RCA[1] in October of last year.  Shortly after my start date, as I was visiting Emerald City, I mentioned my new employment to a few people.  "Tabitha" told me that she had been there as a patient maybe 6 months earlier and had recently relapsed.  She wanted to go back.  We talked about it each time that I visited this under-the-Conrail-overpass community.  I started to realize that I was more annoying to her with my urgings than I was helpful.  I dropped the subject and waited for her to mention it.

From time to time, she would say that she'd like to go.  There was one day, maybe two months ago, when she marched up to me very determined…  "I'm ready to go to RCA."  " Let's make that phone call."  I said with a smile.  Her response:  "Well, not now…"

This past Wednesday, as I was sitting at my computer composing a letter to a judge for Melanie who is in this jail and had a court hearing the next day, Tabitha texted me:  

"I want to go to detox now.  Please come get me before I change my mind!"  

Following some brief texting discussion and determining a place to meet, I drove to Kensington and Somerset.  I found Tabitha right where she said she would be.  She got right into my car and said "Let's go!"

Within three hours of that initial text, Tabitha was entering the RCA facility of her choosing and beginning her experience of five-star level services for her Substance Use Disorder.

Tabitha has private insurance.

The following morning, I put the final touches on my letter to Melanie's judge, drove to the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice building and found my way to courtroom 906.  After sitting for almost two hours, Melanie, who has been in jail for about nine days at this point, was escorted to her chair next to her public defender who she had never met until this moment by a deputy who had her in handcuffs.  She remained in those cuffs for the duration of her hearing.  Prior to Melanie entering the room, this judge casually mentioned that she had been handling "Miss (Family Name's)" case (many years).

With no evidence of compassion for Melanie as a person, the judge proceeded with "the case."  She mildly lectured Melanie for failing to do this and that.  In the end, the judge decided to keep Melanie in custody while an evaluation of needs is done and a report provided to the court.  This process takes six to eight weeks and sometimes longer.

Six to Eight Weeks!

That's 42 to 56 days of sitting in[2] an oversized toilet stall[3] with no privacy around the toilet and sharing that toilet stall with some other woman she doesn't know, having two cots in that toilet stall with something that's supposed to resemble a mattress and one sheet to cover herself at night.  That's 42 to 56 days of no therapy.  That's 42 to 56 days of living inside one's own head and reliving the emotional traumas that escorted her into addiction and convincing herself more and more that she's just not worth it.  That's 42 to 56 days of "mental rot" as described to me by another person in a similar situation not long ago.

Melanie has Medicaid.[4]

Tabitha and Melanie both have Substance Use Disorder, a medical situation officially recognized in the DSM-5.  With private insurance, as you read this, Tabitha is receiving 5-star services so that she can reclaim her life of health.  With Medicaid, as you read this, Melanie is mentally rotting in an oversized shared toilet stall.

Please pray for both of these ladies who do know each other but are not aware of these events in the other's life!

[2] (in the cleaned up words of another person I visited earlier this year)
[3] The jail cell
[4] As a patient reliant on Medicaid, Melanie does not have the option of "making that phone call" and going to a detox/rehab that offers the dignity and respect that is deserved by all human beings.  There is, obviously, much more to this issue than is presented in this blog.  For additional understanding, please click here.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Opposite of Addiction...

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety. 
  The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

This is the closing statement in this TED Talk.  Here are a couple of real-life examples:

"Sally" and her Mom…  I've known Sally for my entire time of visiting the streets of Kensington.  She's an awesome woman who knows her mind.  From time to time, she's even given me a piece of her mind but that's a topic for another day…  J  

Sally was one of the first people I met when I started visiting Emerald City almost three years ago.  She was there on that dangerously cold winter morning this past January when the police evicted everyone from the connection of their community under that railroad bridge nicknamed "Emerald City".

For most - if not all - of these three years, Sally had a weekly lunch date with her Mom.  Mom would come to the area and Sally would meet her.  They would spend some time together.  From time to time, they would even go on an extended day out.  Mom showed respect for Sally and her decisions.  For as tough as it was for Sally and her Mom, they maintained connection one with the other.  Sally is finding her way away from what was to what can be mostly because of the positive connection that was maintained between her and her Mom. 

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  
 The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

"Emmy" and her Mom…  Emmy has been on the streets of Kensington for a couple of years.  I've known her most of that time.  She recently had her 23rd birthday - on the street with no family or Non-street friends around to celebrate.  When I saw her yesterday, I gave her a birthday card.  Her tough exterior melted a bit as she took it from me.  She carried that card down Kensington Avenue.  I saw from a distance her opening it. 

An hour or so later, Emmy asked me if she could call home to talk to her Mom.  I said "Of course!"  She sat in the passenger side of my car.  Using my phone, she called her Mom.  One of the first sentences Emmy said with tucked in tears of attempted street toughness was "It's so nice to hear your voice Mom!"

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  
 The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

When people who suffer from Substance Use Disorder are ostracized to the streets, connection with family, friends and the positive aspects of society have been broken or severely strained.

When the city breaks up "tent communities" because they don't look nice and are believed to be a danger to the established residents of the area, the connection among members of that tent community is broken or severely strained.  Connection between these former tent community residents and outreach groups become strained as well since outreach folks struggle to find those former residents.

When police walk along the public sidewalks evicting Substance Use Disorder patients from sidewalks that have become makeshift, grassroots hospital wards, they are breaking what little connection exists between these patients and the established preexisting community. 

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

In all that we do in our efforts to reduce the suffering and death related to addiction and homelessness, WE MUST find new ways and strengthen existing positive ways to build connections with these fine men and women! 

We must find a way to create a culture of connection because:

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  
 The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

Monday, June 10, 2019

I'm Just Not Ready!

Any one of us who has some annoyance about our own bodies, an annoyance that will only advance with time, understands the idea of "not being ready" to deal with the issue.  Your issue may be an advancing bothersome knee or hip.  It may be that pain in your side that won't totally go away - but you can live with it for now. 

Eventually, when the pain associated with the situation gets severe enough, you will be at the point where you decide that you are ready to deal with it.  You go to your doctor and you begin the process of healing from it.  You go through the minor or major discomforts of the treatments and come out the other side of the experience saying "I wish I'd gotten that fixed a long time ago!"

To one degree or another, we all do that…

Patients dealing with Substance Use Disorder are no different than us.  Your issue may be your hip.  His issue is Substance Use Disorder.  Your issue may be that lumbar disk.   Her issue is Substance Use Disorder.  We all play this game with ourselves of not doing something about our health situation until it 'hurts enough.' 

Non-Substance Use Disorder patients and Substance Use Disorder patients all do this because we are all human beings who need to 'hurt enough' to do something about our unwanted situation.

Each person's measurement of what "hurts enough" to take action on the situation varies.  Different people can tolerate higher levels of pain.  The "The Pain Scale Chart" serves patients and clinical service providers nicely because it takes into account an individual's ability to tolerate their personal pain. 
Here's a look at that chart:

Substance Use Disorder patients who call that piece of sidewalk on Kensington Avenue 'home' are equally human with Non-Substance Use Disorder persons who live in big fancy homes.[1]   Their tendency to wait until their situation 'hurts enough' is no different than ours.  Except for those who have overdosed and died, when they are 'ready' they seek help.[2]

Almost every Substance Use Disorder patient on the streets of Kensington is reliant on Medicaid to cover their medical expenses.  There is the rare but occasional exception of the young person who is still on their parent's insurance or the military service veteran who does not realize they have veteran's benefits.

In this "Simple Mental Health Pain Scale" that can be found at this website, at level 10, the patient is urged to "contact a crisis line immediately."  

Substance Use Disorder patients of the streets of Kensington are required to go to the local crisis center for services once they've decided they are 'ready.' 

When the Medicaid reliant Substance Use Disorder patient reaches that point where they are 'ready' for treatment, the system, as it stands now, does not meet them in their present state of readiness - a mental place for this person that must be met immediately so as not to lose this life saving 'window of opportunity.' 

Here's what I wrote last December as I compared the Medicaid system of health care for Substance Use Disorder patients with the private insurance side of the issue.  "George and John" are fictitious brothers.  Their experiences are all experiences that I have had with real people during the past 2.5 years.


On the Day that George and John were born, their parents, in a fog of addiction, gave them up at local safe drop off stations, George on one day at one such station and John on another day at another station.  As fraternal twins, they looked nothing alike.  They bore no identical traits other than the propensity for addiction that lingered quietly within them.

George and John were placed in loving homes through adoption.

George's home was one of considerable financial wellbeing, mostly through his parent's many real estate holdings.  George went to the finest schools as a child.  In 2008, finances dried up for George's family and times got tough.  His Dad and Mom moved their family of three into the basement of a family friend who had a dark side.  This friend introduced George to aspects of life that no child should ever know.  The resulting pain and confusion within the soul of George awakened the inner demon of addiction.  Heroin became his only and best friend.

John was adopted into a hard-working family.  Mom and Dad were both tradespeople.  Dad was a plumber and Mom an electrician.  Mom and Dad loved athletics and as John grew, they encouraged him to find a sport that he enjoyed.  John was awesome at high school baseball.  On one fateful day, he slid into third base and shattered his leg.  Surgeries lasted for months.  During this time, to manage his pain, John was put on opioid-based pain relievers which handled his pain and awakened his inner demon of addiction.  In time, heroin became his only and best friend

Twins separated at or near birth and who know nothing of each other have been shown to often do the same things throughout their separated lives.  George and John are examples of this phenomenon.

On the same exact day toward the end of 2018, George and John made the same decision...

George woke up in his tent in a "homeless people's encampment."  He glanced over at his tent mate, a young lady in her twenties.  She lay there blue and lifeless with a noticeable facial injury, the result of a date gone bad just hours before.  This, combined with other recent street deaths of friends by overdose, pneumonia and one out of control car and his own multiple overdoses saved by Narcan in recent months watered a seed of rational thinking that had laid dormant for years within George.

John lived with his addiction and his family and kept distant from them but not from it in his basement apartment.  He began to realize that life was not going in the direction it needed to go.  One night, upstairs, around his parent's kitchen table, John confessed his sadness and self-loathing to his Mom and Dad.  The three of them through a lot of tears and a tiny bit of yelling decided on a course of action to address John's addiction.  With private insurance cards in hand, phone calls and arrangements were made for John to enter detox and rehab.  Later that same day, John injected one last dose of his needed medicine, was picked up by a driver from his rehab home of the next 28 to 30 days, arrived and was met by men and women who treated him with the dignity and respect deserving of any human being.

From the moment John entered the building and on his walk to the admissions office and then to his detox room, John walked through tastefully decorated halls lined with portraits of famous strugglers of addiction and inspiring quotes from people throughout the decades.  He could not help but notice the brightly lit lounge areas with their electronic fireplaces and large screen TVs.  Under his shoed feet, every step of the way, he walked on well maintained simulated hardwood floors.

George knew what he needed to do to enter detox.  For the next few days, as he continued his normal routine of living in a tent and 'flying a sign' at street corners that read "Hungry," George connived to survive and hustled to pull together an extra $60.00 so as to buy extra dope to hide on him during his expected one day wait in the Crisis Center several blocks away.

With enough money in hand, he bought the extra dope, and then walked to the Crisis Center, pushed the button on the brick wall next to the secured ill painted metal door with the wire laced security window located in the middle of its upper half.  After a couple pushes of the button, a security guard opened the door and asked why he was there.  After explanations, the guard told George to come in and strip down in public to one layer of outer clothing, to empty all of his pockets, remove his shoes, allow himself to be frisked and to walk through a metal detector.  With growing fear and trepidation and a fading determination in his heart, George complied.  With socked feet, he walked across the worn and tattered simulated hardwood floors that ran throughout the facility to the awaiting receptionist; was handed a clipboard with papers to be filled out and told to "Sit over there and fill these out."  Once filled out, he handed the papers back along with his Medicaid insurance card.

As George sat down, he glanced around the room of grey chairs each attached to the one next to it.  Three other people were in some stage of being processed.  All were asleep.  One was a woman whose 'one layer of outer clothing' had obviously been her only clothing for quite some time.  A man, asleep and draped across two chairs and covered with a blanket, lay motionless representing the hours of waiting he had endured thus far.  The other waiting room resident and only Caucasian of the three looked suspiciously familiar to George.  As George looked at him, asleep in his chair, he wondered if this was the same man he's seen in a recent "Has anyone seen my son?" flyer posted up and down the avenue.

One urine sample, one medical exam, one interview and six hours of room observation later, George was starting to experience dope sickness and needed to use the bathroom.  From observing, he knew that anyone who asked to be allowed into the locked bathroom would be checked on after a very short period of time.  George knew that he could not, during that short interval of privacy, prepare and inject the dope that he had smuggled in and stored on him where nothing to be consumed should ever be stored.

With an onset of diarrhea from dope sickness nearly guaranteed any minute, George requested to use the only bathroom.  He entered it and saw one toilet and two urinals against one wall none of which had any hint of current privacy provided except for the small holes in the wall that suggested that privacy enclosures once existed.  All pipes typical of bathroom fixtures were boxed in so as not to be used in combination with one's belt for the purposes of hanging and ending the misery.  But what did that matter?  By requirement, George had surrendered his belt hours ago.

It was more than George could take.  He walked out of the bathroom without feeling better, politely told the nurse that he was leaving, was reintroduced to his belongings, left and found a back alley nearby to use as his bathroom.
John's road to recovery is well underway.

George is living in a tent.

The one thing both facilities have in common:  Simulated Hardwood Floors.

[1] And don't think for a moment that there are no formerly fancy -homed people now on that sidewalk!
[2] While it goes beyond the point of this blog entry, it should be pointed out briefly that the ability of the Substance Use Disorder patient to rationally determine their 'readiness' is hampered by many factors of overwhelming non-rational thought processes.

Monday, May 27, 2019

It's Time to Plow Down Medicaid Mountain!

I was standing on this portion of the sidewalk on Kensington Avenue today as I was chatting with a man, a long time resident of Kensington.  I'd never met him prior to this moment.  As we stood there talking about how this area has become an open-air absolutely public no-need-to-hide-it grassroots overdose prevention site, men and women were sticking needles in their necks, tourniqueted arms and legs all in the name of 'taking their much-needed medicine.'  These men and women bear (real or blog names) such as Amy, Ashley, Gina, George, Jose, Jesus, Joseph, David, Manuel, Rashime and so many more. 

Used and uncapped syringes originally meant for insulin injections, piled up on the lighter colored portion of the sidewalk to the right of the step in the picture I've linked you to above.  As this man and I casually chatted in the presence of heroin, fentanyl and all sorts of mystery ingredients entering the veins of men and women I've come to love so very much, I reached in my pocket to be sure that my dose of Narcan was available.  It was and yet, I knew it would not be needed.  Thanks to Prevention Point, there is probably as much Narcan on this street as there is heroin!  

And that's the point of this blog…

These collections of human beings gathered together, whether they be under bridges designed to hold rail lines or on sidewalks of local 'mom and pop' businesses such as are on Kensington Avenue, serve a vital and life-saving purpose.  These men and women who would prefer not to have SubstanceUse Disorder as an officially recognized diagnosis in their lives take their potentially instantly deadly medicine because their bodies DEMAND that they do so, not because they want to nor choose to do so.  It is no longer their choice to take or not take their medicine.  

In a very real way, these collections of human beings gathered on the sidewalks are a grassroots level hospital ward where the patients are also the medical service providers.  Some patients inject themselves.  Others can't and so the medication nurse - another patient - provides the injection.  If someone starts to seriously overdose to the point of needing Narcan, the rapid response team - other patients - steps in to provide the life-saving drug and all standard life-saving procedures.  

For those of us who have never walked down this path of Substance Use Disorder, decide now to intellectually accept this demand of their bodies even if you can't understand it with a firsthand understanding.

Once you accept this fact, even if you can't totally understand it, we can begin to work together to make progress on doing something positive about solving this issue. 

Nearly 100% of the men and women on these streets are reliant on Medicaid for financial coverage of their health care needs.  

The inadequate levels of reimbursement to medical facilities are so insufficient that many places simply cannot afford to take these wonderful human beings in as patients.  Those that do focus on Medicaid patients can't afford to provide decency, dignity, nor respect in their settings.  The end result is a higher death rate among Substance Use Disorder patients on Medicaid compared to those with private insurance. 

This MUST be corrected!

I don't pretend to have the answers…

I do know this…

It's Time to Plow Down Medicaid Mountain!

I invite you to this new web address to better understand this situation:  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Pray for Melanie...

For over a year now, I've been sharing stories about "Melanie" in this blog series.  Here they are in reverse date order (for some reason I can't control).

Last summer, as I visited Melanie in jail, she promised me that she would never go back to using heroin.  She has maintained that promise and has told me so each time I've seen her since then.  She has continued to live on the streets for her own reasons that go beyond the point of this blog. 

Melaine has done fairly well until about 10 days ago when, again, for reasons of her own, heroin reentered her pattern of life and her bloodstream.  She has overdosed twice in these ten days and been saved by Narcan twice, once by a resident of the streets and once by a Philadelphia police officer who knows and cares very much for her.

On Wednesday, I found Melanie shortly after this second near death moment.  She asked if she could rest in my car.  She slept for the next couple of hours while I made my rounds visiting people with bananas, water, and song sheets.  I informed each outreach worker who I saw on the streets of Melanie's situation and each one had a different solution based on their experiences and the group they represented.

In the end, Melanie, with the help of the good people of Prevention Point, got out of my car and was considering going in there for help. 

As we hugged each other, I held her extra tight as I was keenly aware that I might never see Melanie alive again.  Her walking path of life is far too thin these days AND it is on the side of a cliff on what I'm calling "Medicaid Mountain."

Pray for Melanie...

Monday, May 13, 2019

Out of My Love for Diane, Guide Me God.

My maternal grandfather was listed as Missing In Action (MIA) for several months during World War I (WWI).  Once home, he refused to ever talk about those months.  To this day, we have no idea what he experienced.  We will never know.

Life as a homeless person dealing with Substance Use Disorder has some parallels to my grandfather's story.  They endure far more than what we hear about from them.  More often than not, these men and women enter their Substance Use Disorder and homelessness through the doors of some form of emotional trauma.

Once out on the streets, they endure more trauma by way of harsh treatment from Non-Substance Use Disorder persons, the medical community, and the legal system.  For men standing on street corners, harsh words and items thrown at them by passersby are common.  For women doing 'dates', degradation and violence are far more common than we ever hear.

That's what makes "Diane" such an awesome witness to her Christian Faith.  She endured far more as a person imprisoned on the streets by a situation she did not want and from which she sought healing than we will ever know.

Diane never told me any of the incidents that she would have most likely experienced.  Just like my grandfather's stories, we will never know. 

But I do know this:

Before the living water of Diane's life evaporated from the fine crystal and porcelain vessel that we recognized and hugged, she declared her Faith in her LORD and Savior one more time and in a way for all of us to know.  She wrote this in a letter to me that I received three days after she died:

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Diane are grieving our loss from our unique perspectives of parent, sibling, children and extended family or friend.  For some of us, this Christian Faith thing is not understood.  We grieve our loss of Diane in the absence of her Savior. 

Diane endured so much in her life and yet her Faith burned bright.  Maybe, just maybe, those of us who are struggling with our loss in the absence of Diane's Savior could consider taking a closer look at the One she claimed as her own.

In our loss of Diane, we are enduring so much pain.  If you are enduring this pain in the absence of the One Diane called Savior and LORD, I'd like to invite you to take a closer look at the Faith of Diane.

Perhaps this could be your conversation with God:

God, I'm hurting… I don't get it…  How could Diane experience so much pain in her years of suffering and yet maintain and declare Faith in You?  She knew of Your Love as an absolute Fact of Life.  I don't.  In honor of Diane, I'm willing to learn more about you.  I don't know that I'll ever really believe as did she but I'm willing to take a peek at who You are.  I'll read some of Your Bible.  I'll visit a church.  I'll ask others who share Diane's Faith.  My heart hurts so badly right now.  I don't get it God but out of my love for Diane, I'm willing to learn more.  Guide me, God.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

TODAY's Touch of the Master's Hand!

Touch of The Master's Hand
Myra Brooks Welch

Twas battered and scarred,
and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
'What am I bidden,
good folks,' he cried,
'Who'll start the bidding for me?'
'A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?'

'Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice; Going for three…'

But no,

From the room, far back,
a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust
from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: 'What am I bid for the old violin?'
And he held it up with the bow.
'A thousand dollars,
and who'll make it two?
Two thousand!
And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once;
three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,' said he.

The people cheered,
but some of them cried,
'We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?'

Swift came the reply:

'The touch of the Master's hand.'

And many a person
with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap
to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.

A 'mess of pottage,' a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is 'going' once, and 'going' twice,
He's 'going' and almost 'gone.'

But the Master comes,
and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul
and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand. 

I wish you could have seen TODAY's Touch of the Master's Hand!:

On this rainy Sunday, I walked up to "Cricket"[1] with an oddly shaped conglomeration of cloth.  "Hi Cricket. Come with me." I said as we entered Martin's Deli.  "I'm not allowed in there." She said.  "For this, you will be." I told her.  We walked in and I opened the cloth (my raincoat on this bad weather day) and she saw the case containing a 3/4 size violin.  She started shaking as she covered her mouth.  I opened the case as it sat on the top of the popsicle cooler.[2]

As I handed Cricket this 3/4 size violin, she took it in hand and, with hardly skipping a beat, lit up that deli with the fastest fingering and string usage I could have ever expected!  People pulled out their cameras.  Cricket danced with joy to her self made music and had an instant audience!

Cricket stopped.

In the doorway of Martin's Deli, Cricket cried.

Cricket spoke: "It's been over a year since I've played a violin."

I hugged her and she bawled the cry of one who unexpectedly reawakened her passion.  

As I held her, I simply said:  "Please know how much Jesus loves you." 

She cried some more.

She played some more.

As we were packing up this violin to keep it safe from the weather, the manager came within range and told Cricket to get out.

I wish you could have seen TODAY's Touch of the Master's Hand! 

PS: Please know you are a magnificent human being made in the image of GOD and you are Worthy of the Highest Dignity, Honor, Respect and Love.

Please Allow Yourself to be touched by the Master's Hand!

[1] A woman who is a classically trained violinist and who, until Substance Use Disorder rerouted her life, was a teacher of violin in the Suzuki Method in the area of West Chester Pa.
[2] in this deli near the intersection of Somerset Street and Kensington Avenue.