Please Know...

As I come to know the men and women of Kensington, specifically the homeless and addicted, their stories become increasingly sensitive and personal. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist in regard to these fine people. Names are rarely their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On The Outside Looking In: The Mystery of Addiction

I was recently asked if safe injection sites promote heroin use.   Expanding the question a bit…

Does providing food, water and clothing, fresh needles and showers at local agencies promote heroin use?

After this year of hearing the stories that I’ve heard directly from the people living in their addiction, I’ve come to this conclusion:

Nothing promotes heroin use more than the lack of a system in place to fully and humanely deal with this current pandemic!

No one decides to become addicted. 

No one wants to stay addicted. 

For those of us on the outside looking in on this issue, that is to say, for those of us who have never personally dealt with addiction within our own being, there is a mystery that we simply cannot fully understand.  The strength of a drug addiction is outrageously powerful. 

Perhaps these two illustrations will help us understand:

1. In a conversation with one man, a long time resident of Emerald City, I asked him if what I've heard is true about the sense of having a demon inside of them in their addiction.  "Absolutely!  This demon makes me do things that I would never otherwise do to support my habit that I would never otherwise have.  I am not the person who does these things.  The demon is doing them and I feel powerless to stop it."[1]

2. I introduced myself to a new resident of Emerald City, a woman in her 20s.  I mentioned my church affiliation.  She promptly shared with me her deep love for our LORD.  With a sparkle in her eyes, she explained that as a devout Roman Catholic, she tries to attend Mass every day and loves it as her expression of her love for her LORD. 

She paused.

The sparkles in her eyes started to run down her cheeks as tears.  She looked at me and said, "I'm sorry. I have to leave now.  It's time for me to go humiliate myself."   She wiped away her melted sparkles, turned and left for her evening of “dates.”

If those of us on the outside of addiction looking in can just accept the fact that there is a mystery there that we cannot and will never fully understand, then there is a chance that we can more readily accept the addicted person as being fully human and worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love.

[1] There are many ways to interpret what the ‘demon’ is.  Some will say that it is Satan.  Others will say that the drug is the ‘demon.’  However you may interpret this, suffice it to say that it is a power seemingly beyond one’s self.

Monday, December 11, 2017

I was recently asked why I support community living in places like Emerald City.

Communities such as Emerald City have become, by default, safe injection sites.  Do they meet the official criteria of a safe injection site?  Probably not. But they are, none the less.  Of the three overdoses requiring Narcan that I have witnessed in Emerald City, all were saved by other homeless addicted people who live there and carry Narcan.[1]  They look out for each other in this regard.

In the case of Emerald City, The City of Brotherly Love visits with police and sanitation workers to "clean out" the community once each week, currently on Friday mornings.  The 40 to 60 residents MUST pack up all of their belongings and haul them up the street one block before the officer in charge decides that time is up.  The sanitation workers then gather anything that was left behind and crushes it in their trash trucks.  This includes perfectly good personal belongings of these men and women.  If any man or woman happens to not be there at this time, the likelihood that they will lose ALL of their possessions is very high.

Scattering the residents of these communities by systematically removing them from their community living area leads some of them to living in solitude in abandoned buildings.  And that just makes sense.  Think about it.  If I am required by Philadelphia to move all of my possessions one block up the street each week, why shouldn't I move into an abandoned building and set up my own home where I won't have to move?  These men and women move in and will continue to use their drugs (their 'medicine' as they call it[2]).  They will run the much higher risk of overdosing where no one else will see them doing so.  The end result is one more dead daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, niece or nephew.

When these human communities of high school drop outs[3], college graduates with their bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and skilled labor have no funds for housing, they do what they can to create protection from the elements.  The result is blanket and sheet, cardboard and plywood homes on sidewalks.  If the sight of these homes for our sons and daughters in the City of the American Revolution bothers you, don't call city hall and complain.  Visit them.  Knock on their front sheet.  Sit with them.  Invite them to tell you their story and tell them you care.

[1] All three were within two weeks just recently.  The first two were in a ten minute period and these two men were saved by one woman, a resident of Emerald City.  She knew what to do and I, with my (former) EMT training and 20 years of hospital work assisted her. I was in awe of her knowledge and skill as she did what she knew needed to be done to save these men.  Two families have this woman to thank for not losing their son and/or father that day.  The third overdose was a woman who relapsed after being drug free for four months.  She thanked me yesterday for saving her life a couple weeks ago.  I clarified with her that I only monitored her pulse and respirations while a woman in the community did the saving.  Ever since this day, whenever I see this latter woman, I give her a hug and say "Good morning/afternoon Life Saver!"   She smiles and says "Thank you."
[3] Many have dropped out due to their addiction.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I am so broken.

In my visits to Emerald City, I’ve been accepted by many men and women and ignored by some.  There is one woman who told me early on that I was annoying.  I chose to love her in the name of Jesus and respect any and all indications of desired boundaries that she seemed to demonstrate.  She has slowly warmed up to me.  Today, she gave me a hug, looked at me and said: “Chris, I am so broken.”

“Tell me how to respond LORD.” I prayed.

“Sally, in Japan, when a valuable piece of china breaks, it is repaired by piecing the broken parts back together with gold.  The end result is that the piece of fine china is even more beautiful than it was before it broke.  You are that fine piece of china and God wants to put your broken parts back together with pure gold if you will let Him.”

She pondered.

Please Pray.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Public Communal Homeless Addiction Living Saves Lives

Sometimes It's better to Vlog than to Blog...

The Addicted, Homeless, Hero

Last night I saw the woman who helped save another woman who was overdosing on Tuesday night. I congratulated her for doing such a good job and saving the other woman's life. She thanked me and shrugged her shoulders and said: "I've had two more since then."
That's my definition of a hero, someone who casually does the extremely good thing and shrugs it off as the routine stuff of life.
A couple of minutes after this conversation, I saw this same woman injecting heroin into her own arm and beginning to slump. I went over to her and spoke to her and with her approval held her hands and we talked and prayed. When I was done praying I thought that we were done praying. Although still in her slump, she looked at me and she said: "We're not done praying. I have to pray." The power of the Holy Spirit came over her and pulled her out of her drug-induced slump as she prayed a glorious prayer for her own healing and the healing of everyone in the Emerald City. She concluded this prayer with the words "in Jesus Name" and she blessed herself as a good Roman Catholic would do. She thanked me for the opportunity to pray. And with that, she slumped back into her drug-induced stupor. I stayed with her long enough to make sure that she was not seriously overdosing.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Sidewalk Garden

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for the privilege of having personal stories shared with me by addicted and homeless men and women as many of them bear witness to their Christian Faith.  Here is one example which I share with you as a parable:

The sidewalk garden had been tended by its loving gardener.  This gardener took care of the garden’s every need.  One day, an uninvited gardener turned the soil of this beautiful garden and planted a seed.  The garden and its loving gardener were saddened by this violation.  Within a short time, the garden realized that the seed was starting to grow.  The garden told its loving gardener who continued to care for and love the garden.  The garden then told some of the other sidewalk gardens.  Most said, “Remove that sprouted seed before it has a chance to bloom.” 

This garden said “I believe that my creator would not want me to do that.  The unauthorized gardener and the sprouted seed in my soil are two distinct beings.  I will allow this flower to grow and to bloom.  When the time has come for this flower to bloom, I will allow another more established and healthier garden to raise my flower as its own.  My creator will guide my heart and give me the strength that I need during this time.”

And so the sidewalk garden continues on this Thanksgiving Day to tend to the needs of this sprouted seed and the loving gardener continues to tend to the needs of its beautiful sidewalk garden as they await the blooming of this flower in a couple of months.