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.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

You Are A Role Model!


I couldn't find her at first and I was starting to wonder if I would.  A guy friend of hers told me that she was in her tent.  I had called into her a few times with no response.  I now knew why.  She was very dope sick and refusing to date for income to buy her needed medicine.  

With her friend's help, I found her dope sick and on her mattress inside her tent.  I told her that I had her requested case of bananas.  She was very thankful.  I pulled my car up close to her tent.  Even with her growing dope sickness, she gathered her strength and insisted on carrying the 40-pound case of bananas into her canvas home.  We said goodbye with a hug and I went on my way to my home.

Four blocks away, with rain starting to fall, I saw again an inspirational woman standing on the dashed line on Lehigh Avenue selling nearly frozen bottled waters.  With the light being red, I was able to tell her about how she's been observed by the women of Emerald City and how they are starting to think that maybe they too can sell a product rather than sell themselves. 

She smiled a smile the ingredients of which I cannot yet explain as I looked at her and said:

"You are inspiring the ladies of Emerald City to know that they do not have to date to support their needs.  I too have been inspired by your determination to support your family with dignity and honor and respect and love. 

You are a role model!"

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Bananas and Gator Aid on a Street Corner

About three weeks ago, two seemingly unrelated happenings were, umm, happening simultaneously a few blocks apart.  When the thought of these two events merged in one lady's mind, she began to see that day when she can put dating in her past.

Happening #1

For the past three weeks, a woman who is not addicted but is struggling with life has been selling bottles of very cold water from a cooler at the corner of Lehigh and Aramingo.  A woman selling products at a street corner is an unusual site.  I stopped one day to congratulate her on her efforts.  Our conversation wondered into acknowledging that she has that most unfortunate option of dating.

"No. That's not one of my options. I have a family to feed and will do so with as much dignity as I can."

Happening #2

My friend Beth suggested to me that I investigate buying bananas from Produce Junction on Chichester Avenue on my way into the city.  Their prices are fantastic!  I can get 40 pounds for $11.50.  I shared the ideas with several men and women in Emerald City that if they could reimburse me that amount, they could sell the case at street corners and earn maybe $40.00.

One of the women of Emerald City pulled me aside at my last visit and said this:

"I've seen that woman selling waters and you've told us about the possibility of earning money with banana sales.  I'd like you to pick up a case of bananas.  I'm going to buy a case of Gatorade.  I'm going to go into business as soon as you can bring me the bananas.  I'll pay you back.  I'm sick of dating!  I'm sick of doing that disgusting stuff with up to 15 'men' a day just to survive and buy my medicine.  I'm going to sell these bananas and Gatorade at a good corner that I've identified and stop selling myself.  All I need is the bananas, the Gatorade and a cooler."

Tomorrow morning, as I make my way down Chichester Avenue, I'm picking up donated water[1] and two cases of bananas.  One of those cases will be given to this Emerald City resident who wants to stop selling herself for the sake of her medicine. 

I do need to find a wheeled cooler for her efforts.  It needs to be large and this style with the handle in the middle so as to allow hauling of a box or case of product on the top.  


Thank you.



[1] It's ironic that of the two people who donate water to this Relational Ministry, they both live on Chichester Avenue.  To the best of my knowledge, they do not know each other.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Song for and A Visit with Emily

The good people who I visit are asking me for song sheets that I started distributing a few weeks ago. 

Maybe three weeks ago, I distributed forty copies of one song's lyrics to those who I sensed would welcome it.  One of those copies was welcomed by Emily, a poet who has lived in these bridge communities longer than I have visited.  Emily has experienced tremendous losses in recent years.  These sadnesses and other ingredients that make up her life's path thus far led her to addiction, residing under a bridge and other activities that fill the days of women on the streets. 

When Emily read the following lyrics, she looked up the song on YouTube.[1]  Later this afternoon, I will be sitting with Emily in a prison visiting room as she is awaiting her court date next week. 

Here is the song sheet and link to the song that touched Emily's heart:








This is largely a self funded ministry.  I'm running dangerously low on funds to keep going and pay my own bills.  Please consider helping me with the expenses related to this relational ministry.  To learn more about giving, please click here.  



[1] This was the first time of which I am aware that with her own initiative she reached out to take a look at something related to our great Christian Faith.  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

An Evening with Pastor Sam

It had been several months since Pastor Sam and I had sat down and chatted about the stuff of our lives.  From our earthly perspective, a spontaneous moment opened and we talked superficially and ridiculously deeply with each other for the next five hours as we sat in his efficiency style apartment.  I kicked off my shoes and relaxed in the comfort of his home.  During that time, a few neighbors stopped in.  Some of these neighbors stopped in to see what they could get from us while others gave of themselves from deep inside their hearts. 

Pastor Sam was pleased to show me around his one-room apartment:

"Over here, I keep my food and extra food for neighbors who may stop in and need a bit to hold them over.  I don't have a lot of extra but I make it available.  Here, I have clothes: extra shirts and pants, more than what I need and available to anyone who may need some.  I keep it washed and folded.  As you can see and feel, this apartment is damp and dusty.  I wash all of these clothes every week, even if they have not left the shelves.  No one ever takes more than they need for the moment.  My neighbors are wonderful that way, even in the midst of their situation."

Just then, a man came by to do some sweeping of the public areas of this most unusually designed apartment complex.  Pastor Sam, told him that the sweeping could wait until the next day since he and I were in a rather deep and personal conversation.  The man understood.  Pastor Sam went on to tell me his story of how God became so very real in his life and how, through an incredible path of events, he was ordained as a pastor in his denomination. 

At about this point, a lady neighbor stopped by to visit.  Pastor Sam shared with me and her the depth of a recent conversation between the two of them that had him, a pastor in his 50s "under spiritual arrest by God into total silence" as this lady 20 years his junior quoted and expanded on scripture to him for a couple hours the night before. 

Before our three-way conversation closed, we sat together on Pastor Sam's floor and prayed with and for each other and our friends. 

There is so much more that I'd like to share with you about this evening that lasted about 5 hours in Pastor Sam's apartment but I can't because of the personal and awesome nature of what transpired between the people mentioned and others who live in neighboring apartments.

And now a confession…
                               
The "neighboring apartments" mentioned above are tents occupied by men and women who are misunderstood, marginalized and despised by so many people on the outside of addiction and homelessness.  Pastor Sam's "apartment" is this piece of sidewalk between columns 2 and 3 on the south end of the Conrail overpass over Frankford Avenue at its intersection with Lehigh Avenue.  It was in this location on this night where friends talked and laughed and cried, shared snacks and sodas and hugged and prayed in all the exact same comfort as in any living room in any house in America.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You are not a 'w' and the world is round!

"I am NOT a Whore!"

"I am NOT a Whore!"

"I am NOT a Whore!"

These words rang out in anger and through tears, shouted by one of the ladies of Emerald City at the person who had just called her such.

I was too far away to know the details of what was going on.  My immediate response to the men and women around me was "Oh how I hate that 'W' word!"  

One man asked… "That 'W' word?" 

"Yes.  That 'W' word that sounds like it should be an 'H' word.  For that matter, I hate the 'P' word and the 'H' word that really is an 'H' word!"[1]

One lady who overheard my rant actually laughed at me as I put those words in the same realm of offensive words as the dreaded 'F' bomb.

I continued…  "No lady here is a W, P or H… Everyone here is a human being worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love."

"Oh, I bet you say that to all the women." One lady chimed in with a grin.

"Actually, I do because it's true.  It's true of the women.  It's true of the men.  Everyone here is a human being worthy of the highest dignity, honor, respect, and love."

A couple of people simply said, "Thank you."

A couple others seemed to have just been exposed to a new thought on the same plain as "The world might be round."

You are not a 'w' and the world is round! 


Genesis 1:27 New International Version (NIV)

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.




[1] Please don't look for an explanation in this footnote.  I'm sure you can figure it out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Miracles can have roots buried deep in the dirt of the streets of Kensington.

Melanie has known addiction and homelessness for at least two of her 3.5 decades on this earth.  She's known being parentless due to addiction on their part for longer than that. 

The following true story picks up within a day of where my novel styled blog left off…
                                                                                                                                   
Melanie was arrested and now sits in a local prison.  The specifics of her arrest are irrelevant to this true story.

I visited Melanie today.  As I write this account, I will be alternating between the emotional father/daughter relationship that is developing between us and the reality of our factual relationship.

In reality, I've never known Melanie free of the demon of addiction.  I've never known her real and somewhat dimpled smile nor the glow of life beaming from her deep blue eyes framed by a head of red hair.  These new to me aspects of Melanie were evident as I saw her sitting in the prison visiting room and as I struggled to open the second of two security doors that separate residents from the demon living in the outside world. 

As I opened the door and went through one last security checkpoint, Melanie spontaneously called out, "Thank you for visiting, Dad!  It means so much to know that somebody cares."

For the next 30 minutes, we small talked and Faith talked and movie talked.  We talked about family and how she has none of her factual own.  We talked about court and her determination to be done with her former ways.  We talked about the power of prayer and the Bible and other worthwhile books.  We talked about that day, perhaps two or three months away when I will pick her up late at night on her day of discharge.

So where is the miracle in this story? 

The miracle is in the breaking of the stronghold of the power of the demon.  Where the medical establishment was powerless or unwilling to step in to solve this opioid issue of its own making, the legal establishment stepped in to save the day and, perhaps, set Melanie on an all-new course in life.  Sadly, this leaves Melanie and thousands upon thousands in her similar situation with a criminal record where an extended medical record would have been much more appropriate.

Miracle Number 2

Here's what I texted to close friends shortly after I learned of Miracle Number 2:

As I text this I am sitting in my car with the steeple of old Christ Church to my left in a parking lot having just visited another of the young ladies of the streets of Kensington who is a deeply committed Christian and was doing great in her walk away from opioids until a medical procedure thrust her back into addiction.  

She was hospitalized just a few days ago with a severe infection that had the potential to claim her life.

Yesterday, the medical team did some further studying to determine how they were going to treat this potentially fatal condition. 

The entire infection was completely gone!

The doctor stated to this dear young lady formerly of the streets that this is an absolute bona-fide genuine miracle and can have no other explanation attached to it.


Today, I have had the privilege of visiting a Christian in prison and visiting a Christian in a hospital. Both are looking at how God intervened in their lives.

I cannot believe that I've had the privilege of experiencing such Earthbound Glory...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Thank you, Beth.

What I am about to share, I do so with no sense of inflated ego nor pride nor any other such viewpoint in this life.  I share this with you out of a pure and humbled heart that our God and LORD has allowed me to come alongside men and women, addicted, homeless, relatives thereof and dealers thereto and been able to share with them to the best of my feeble ability the simple and profound fact of facts that the King of the universe adores them for being exactly who they are: His beloved children!

Before I continue on much farther, I need to explain to you that today's activities are bathed in the light of an apparent stalker/rapist/murderer who has claimed the lives of at least two women on the street and nearly claimed the life by severe choking of one woman I've written about extensively in this blog series.  These are the street facts of the situation.  The factual reality facts are possibly different but basically the same.  The street understood facts are the facts that set the lighting and tone for what plays out on this real life stage for the men and women of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Community (not to mention the other pockets of such communities that I've not yet visited nor mentioned in this blog series).

Having been visiting these communities for over a year now, previously distant men and women have begun opening their lives to me in ways I would never have imagined months ago.  As you read that last sentence, you're probably assuming that I mean the addicted and homeless people of these communities.  Yes. That's what I mean.  Much to my surprise, I also mean, albeit to a lesser extent, the men and women who run the drug distribution process in these communities. 

It's one thing to hear a man or woman describe their pain and why they consume what they consume.  It's another thing altogether to hear a man or woman explain why they distribute what they distribute and as they acknowledge their recognized reality that they play a part in burying your sons and daughters.  And yet, there I am, in some roll I never would have guessed ten years ago when I moved back here that I would be a listening ear focusing on the anguish of the addicted and their dealers.

Now hold those thoughts as I switch gears and share with you a very tiny segment of today's events…

Thanks to Beth, a friend here in Delaware County, I've discovered that I can buy a case of bananas (60 - 70 total) for $11.50 at Produce Junction on Chichester Avenue in -Umm - Chichester, Pa. (That's a great place to put such an aptly named avenue!).  That's ridiculously cheap!  I've purchased three cases so far for my typical distribution. 

It got me thinking…

If I can buy these bananas for such a great price, can I resell these bananas at my cost to a willing lady who's at increased risk of assault, rape and murder and she, in turn, sell them to passersby on a street corner, earn $50.00 profit and not need to go out on one or two dates, which may unintendedly be with the current Kensington Stalker?

I figured it was worth the $11.50 gamble.  I bought one more case than what I needed and presented the idea to several ladies throughout this day.  I first thought of the woman who suffers from a non-addiction related medical issue that does not even permit her to date due to extreme pain that ravages her body.  When I found her, she was desperately dope sick and more concerned with messing her pants than selling bananas so as to raise funds for the purchase of her medicine.

"Dear LORD, please show me who these bananas should be entrusted to."  I prayed.

Shortly after that prayer, the most petite resident of Emerald and Frankford meandered past me wearing a street length long flowing black elegant summer gown.  She was carrying her all too typical rather oversized purse in preparation for her long night of back to back probably scheduled dates.  I'd seen her maybe one other time. 

This blog is getting a bit long so allow me to summarize…

"Hi, most petite daughter of your heartbroken parents and frightened family.  Would you like to sell a case of bananas and cancel a couple of those dates tonight?"

"Sounds great!  If I can't sell them, I'll make smoothies.  Either way, I'll be giving you $11.50 on Tuesday."

Why did this sound slightly reminiscent of days in my childhood long since past?


She returned to her tent so as to inject one last dose of her medicine in order to numb her mind and body to the anguish of selling herself to 'men' who don't give a rip about her as a human.  After several attempts of sticking the needle into her hand at the base of her thumb,[1] she needed to dispose of that first dose (a $5.00 per packet cost and I don't know how many packets were represented in that syringe.)  of heroin because her own blood had clotted firmly in the tube.

I brought the case of bananas to her tent that she shared with a man who is or was involved in some aspect of the drug distribution process.  I explained to him what the idea was for this case.  He liked the idea and thanked me for caring about the dangers the ladies of the community face on an hourly basis each and every day.

Shortly thereafter, I said my goodbyes and made my way home.  As I was leaving, she was still trying to find a vein for her medicine.

Will she sell or smoothie those bananas?  If she makes a profit and avoids one or two dates, will they have been dates with the current Kensington Stalker who would have raped and/or killed her? 

Only Heaven knows…

I'm just thankful to our LORD that I've been able to be a part of this journey. 

And, by the way, you may have saved a life tonight so I need to say:

Thank you, Beth.



[1] You try doing that some day!  That would hurt beyond words and yet she needs to do so multiple times each day.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Tonight, this blog is my refrigerator door!


I gladly and proudly place these four forever to be treasured works of love and art on this blog as if this was my refrigerator door for all the world to see and read and marvel upon…

These four sides of two cards drawn last Sunday by a resident of Emerald City serve as a powerful statement of Faith: a spiritual life preserver holding strong by a thread within a sea of relapsed addiction, homelessness and dating. 

Imagine if you can and I'm not sure I could if I had not witnessed these events in front of me over three days of visit in a period of five days…

Day One: She shared with me her firm and growing Faith in our Savior in the midst of her medically induced opioid relapse…  She expressed a sincere desire to attend church with me the following Sunday. 

Day Two: She was waiting for me when I arrived to look for her on Sunday and she gladly attended Urban Hope with me.  
Day Three: She asked to sit in my car's passenger seat so we could talk privately.  She gives me these cards while using the passenger side makeup mirror to apply her makeup for her afternoon of dates that she despises.  She sees no choice but to 'date' as her only means of financial provision to support an addiction that was handed back to her by an incompetent medical provider.

In the absence of any other source of funding for her medicine which she has nearly no choice but to consume, I have no way to tell her to stop dating or change her plans for the night.  

I remind her of her Faith and she simply says "That's all I have left."


2 Corinthians 12:9 New International Version (NIV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.



               



Friday, August 3, 2018

From Neurosurgery to Addiction… From Incarceration to Full College Scholarship…

Two Stories: One of Heartbreak The Other of Inspiration

As I visited Emerald City last night, among many activities of the evening, the call went out among the community that there was an overdose with CPR in progress up one of the side streets.  Narcan is in full supply in Emerald City.  One container was grabbed by its owner as he ran up the street a short block away. 

When I arrived at the side street, a young woman who I barely knew said with obvious and yet humble pride that she, along with others, saved this guy and he had already run away.

I asked her if she'd like some water and a banana after saving the life of this man.  She thanked me.  As the conversation continued, she reminded me of her name and lost college status as a 4th-year med student specializing in neurosurgery prior to the demon of addiction knocking on her door.  As she shared this, I recalled the same conversation with her months earlier.  I asked her if in her studies she had heard the name, Dr. Eugene Spitz.  She said, "Of course!"

I shared with her how Dr. Spitz's two daughters had been in my high school with me years ago and how we routinely went swimming in his home's pool.[1],[2]  She thought that was cool but was more thoughtful, and rightly so, with her realization that tonight's save of this young man was her 12th for 2018.

As I reflect back on this conversation, there seemed to be a sense of reawakening in this woman's spirit as she connected in her mind the lifesaving that she had just done with the life saving on a much larger scale that she would have done as a neurosurgeon if the demon had not come knocking. 


Shortly thereafter, I was at a recovery group dinner at Urban Hope celebrating the 7th anniversary of this group.  Among the many activities of the evening, there were brief testimonies from various men and women.  One of the men shared that, following many years of incarceration during which time he earned two associates degrees he has been living in transitional housing for the past couple of years.

In about 3 weeks, he will be moving to his own apartment for the first time in many years (decades?) so as to begin at least two years of Biblical studies thanks to a full scholarship from Eastern University!  I graduated from Eastern in 1990. 

In Summary:        

Within the course of a couple hours last night,

  1. I conversed with a demon derailed would-have-been-neurosurgeon who knew of Dr. Spitz, world-renowned neurosurgeon, my sixth-grade class mate's Dad and founding board member of the high school from which I graduated.  She lives addicted and homeless under a bridge and bears all the burdens of a woman in such a situation.
  2. I was inspired by the testimony of a formerly incarcerated man who will eventually graduate from Eastern University and do so with a full scholarship, the college from which I graduated. 


Summing Up my Summary:

When you take time to get to know someone, anyone, you'll be amazed at how much you have in common. 





[1] Dr. Spitz and my Dad were founding board members of the school when it started in 1972.  I was one of the original 7 students when classes started. 
[2] Whenever I think of Dr. Spitz's one daughter who was in 6th grade with me, I laugh at the comment she made one day as we ate lunch together.  "Chris, you are a boy so that makes you my boyfriend but I don't love you."  

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Elli and her Dentist

John Jack was proud of his associate's degree with which he served the people of his community as an assistant to a dental hygienist for over 10 years.  After thinking about it for a long time, he entered dental school and graduated somewhere between the top and the bottom ranking of his class.  He remained proud of his associate's degree and wanted to retain a remembrance of those days in his title on business cards and on the sign on his new office door.

Here begins the true story of



Elli had been living on the streets of Kensington, addicted and homeless for over a year.  She knew days of little food and sleep and a never-ending run of humiliating and potentially dangerous 'dates.'  She got to the point within her soul where she decided enough was enough.  With a great deal of effort, she managed to get into a detox and rehab program and was doing great, great beyond her and her loved one's expectations.

Once out of rehab, with a counselor's guidance, she set a course for further recovering of her life's goals which now included a very real knowledge of her LORD's love for her and deep commitment to Jesus as her personal LORD and Savior.

One of her first physical goals selected for achievement was to tend to her dental issues.[1]  She made an appointment with a local dentist who had just opened his own office near her home.

Following a thorough exam, Dr. Jack Ass., DDS advised Elli that the best course of action was to remove all of her remaining teeth and create a full set of dentures.  Elli was saddened about this but agreed that in this time of starting over with her life, completely new teeth fit that theme.

As a newly opened dental practice, Dr. Jack Ass., DDS's schedule was far less than full.  Elli had not eaten anything since the night before and agreed to have her teeth removed right then and there.  The procedure went well and the pain which followed was horrendous - for Elli that is… Dr. Jack Ass., DDS didn't feel a thing.

In an obvious violation of his dental Hippocratic oath[2], a version of which I, the author of this blog could find, Dr. Jack Ass., DDS provided an opioid-based pain reliever to Elli. 


Elli is back on the streets, 

using, 

dating, 

crying,  - NO, -  wailing in my arms two nights ago in agony that consumes the depths of her soul, over the loss of her fight for sobriety and the apparent need to 'date' in the sight of her LORD and Savior so as to provide funding for an addiction that she beat and that Dr. Jack Ass., DDS ignorantly pushed her back into once again.




[1] Addiction and street life really do a lot of damage to teeth and gums. 
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
·         I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those dental professionals in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
·         I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
·         I will remember that there is art to dentistry as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
·         I will not be ashamed to say “I know not”; nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s well being.
·         I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humility and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
·         I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems if I am to care adequately for the sick.
·         I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
·         I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
·         If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live a re-membered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Before The demon Came Calling...

The following is written more like a novel.  Events have happened at some point in the recent past.  I am not an actual father but felt led to write this from that perspective...

I had recently learned that my daughter was living under one of two bridges in Kensington.  She's been dealing with addiction for years.  She's the apple of my eye, the young love of my life.  I've visited those bridges a few times in hopes of finding her.  Tonight, I did.

She was off by herself, having a hard time standing.  She was within eyesight of the rest of the bridge community and yet in a location where the driver of any passing car could easily stop and scoop her up for their own illicit plans.  I walked over to her.

"Hi, Melanie."  With a slobbery lean, she looked at me and smiled a bewildered and slightly embarrassed smile.  "Hi, Dad.  Why are you here?"  "You're my daughter and I love you."

For the next hour, I stayed with Melanie as she alternated from standing more or less straight up to sinking lower and lower until those moments when her head rested on the urine fragranced sidewalk on the opposite side of the road from the tented men and women of this particular bridge community.  There was a definite cycle to the process.  In her alert moments, she looked at me, smiled as her nose ran and drool found her t-shirt.  "You're still here?"  "Of course I am. You're my daughter and I love you."

In one of those coherent moments in this ongoing cycle, I said to Melanie that I wish we could go to McDonald's as we did when she was a child.  "Can I get a chocolate milkshake?" she asked in the midst of her high.  "Of course you can."  That was always her favorite.

For the next hour or so, my adorable weeble wobbled and never fell down.

Without any hint of this moment coming, Melanie stood up, looked at me and repeated, "Dad?"  You're still here?"  "Of course I am Melanie.  You're my daughter and I love you."

"Can we go to McDonald's?"

"Yes.  Let's go."

"I have to change my shirt first."

"That's fine.  I'll wait."

Maybe twenty minutes later, my princess reappeared, cleaned up, wearing a beautiful long flowing bright pastel colored summer dress.  Her makeup was perfect.  Memories of days long since past flooded my mind as she walked toward me.  How can such a beautiful woman call this underside of a Conrail overpass 'home'?

Dinner by way of the McDonalds drive through was exquisite.  We had decided to drive through and park along Lehigh Avenue so as to be able to chat privately.  She and I ordered the same things, breakfast foods and chocolate shakes, just as we had done in younger days before the demon came knocking on our family door.

After dinner, as we drove, Melanie asked me to pull over on a side street.  She opened the door, begged me not to leave and quickly explained that she needed to do a quick date so as to raise funds for her medicine.  My heart began to explode.  And that's when God stepped very noticeably into this night.

"BE CALM.  I GOT THIS.  ALL WILL BE WELL.  I WANT YOU TO SEE WHAT MY LADY CHILDREN ON THE STREET ENCOUNTER EVERY DAY AND  EVERY NIGHT.  ALL WILL BE WELL.  JUST OBSERVE.  YOU WILL KNOW WHAT TO DO NEXT."

For maybe the next half hour, my daughter love paced around the intersection a hundred feet behind my car.  I watched in my rearview mirror as she watched for cars slowing down to look at her.  Her pastel colors stood out in the street light darkness of the night.

On three occasions, 'men' pulled over on the opposite side of the same street where I was parked.  My precious daughter cautiously walked up to their passenger window and engaged in whatever conversation happens in that moment.  The third 'man' had parked exactly across from my car.  Melanie slowly walked up to his passenger window.  I could see her face as she realized that this third attempt was not interested in her either.  With each 'rejection' I could see her countenance of joy from the evening deteriorate.  I couldn't take it anymore.  I couldn't take realizing that I may witness my flesh and blood possibly 'going down' on some guy who doesn't care about her in any way shape or form.

As that third car sped away, my angel looked broken.  I motioned to Melanie to come over.  She got back in my car. 

"How much money do you need for your medicine to get you through the night?"

She paused and thought and said with no sence of pride...

"Forty dollars would keep me reasonably comfortable through the next eight hours."

Maybe I'm wrong but I think this is what a Dad would do in such a situation…

I gave her the money and drove her to a location where she suggested I pull over.  She walked around a corner, her pastels disappearing and came back within five minutes with her medicine for the night.  She prepared her first dose and stuck her previously used needle into her human form I had helped create only a very a few decades ago five times before finding a vein that would accept the injection. 

As her 'medicine' began to take effect, Melanie mellowed and settled into a position of her head on my lap as she had done so often in her childhood, long before the demon came calling.

My heart ached for the return of the peace and pleasure of those days.  For now, I needed to know that this fine daughter of my making was, at least for this night, back with me and content to be so. 

In those days of Melanie's childhood, I would often brush her hair as we would watch the Saturday morning lineup of cartoons.  Tonight, as I looked down at my beautiful gift from God, I noticed how knots had found their way into her curly locks.  I found a travel kit that was within reach and pulled out a hairbrush.  For the next hour or so, Melanie laid there semi-conscious and fully aware that I was brushing her hair.  Addiction and homelessness, streetwalking and dating, and maybe even the demon itself seemed to take the night off. 

The best of nights come to a close at some point…

I took God's gift to me back to where we had started hours before.  Out of respect for her adulthood and in spite of my heartache, we said goodnight with a hug and a kiss…   Oh, and that silly little nose rub that we did from time to time… before the demon came calling.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Can a Ministry be a Ministry and Not Be 501c3?

It was recently explained to me by a leader of a suburban church that since my Relational Ministry is not a 501c3, the church, as an organization, could not support my efforts.[1]  "You call it a ministry." was one of the statements made to me.

Well, let's see:

Matthew 25:34-36 (MSG)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,

For more than a year, I've provided bananas and occasional other foods as able.

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

            For more than a year, I've provided water.

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I provided a room at my house for 10 days after an Emerald City resident was released from prison.

I have provided sheets, many of which became walls of 'rooms' to create some degree of privacy on the streets.

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I've provided coats and clothes.  I've tucked our county's sons and daughters in with blankets and quilts as they slept on pieces of cardboard shivering in their sleep in the cold of winter.

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

By visiting multiple days in a row, I identified a seriously ill man who ended up in the hospital with advanced pneumonia.  He told me later that I saved his life.  I visited him in the hospital as he recovered. 

As I type this, I am waiting for a text from a former Emerald City resident who is stuck in a hospital awaiting surgery for a non-addiction related issue and wants me to visit.

I was in prison and you came to me.’

I have visited two Emerald City residents in prison and attended their court sessions with their family members.  I wrote to the judge providing character insights for one of them.[2]


Miscellaneous:

  • I've had countless casual conversations with residents on matters of Faith as we sat on the sidewalk.
  • I've assisted with four overdosed people, one who needed CPR.  All were saved not by me but by the excellent care given to these four human beings by two residents of Emerald City.[3],[4]
  • I've been scolded at and then apologized to by a Philadelphia police officer who thought I was trying to pick up one of the ladies for a 'date'.  He thanked me for my efforts.  (That was a fun moment.)
  • I've provided Bibles and other Christian themed books, art books, and crossword books and notebooks for diarying[5].
  • I've purchased and distributed several copies of the book, Walking Into Walls, to people who were ready and open to making the changes mentioned in that book.
  • I've been told by these overlooked men and women that I'm a blessing to them.
  • One drug dealer told me: "If the mayor ever asks me, I'm going to tell him that you should get the citizen of the year award for all that you do for this community."[6]
  • I've listened to, held the hand and hugged the straight, gay and lesbian addicted and homeless person also dealing with cancer, MS, HIV, and AIDS.
  • I've been told by one that I'm their father figure since losing their own parents years ago.
  • I've provided printed prayers and Christian song lyrics to residents and dealers. 
  • I've reunited by phone residents and family members who had not spoken in months. 
  • I've passed messages back and forth between residents and family members who are not ready to speak to each other directly.
  • I've come to know fathers and mothers and aunts and cousins of residents of the streets of Kensington.  All adore their street-imprisoned son/daughter, nephew/niece, cousin and ache to the deepest fathoms of their heart for a safe return.
  • I've applied triple antibiotic ointment and bandages to nail-in-foot holes and medicine-injection-gone-wrong abbesses. 
  • I've been approached for and given a hug to ladies as they hop out of cars on their return from dates and before they leave for their next appointment.
  • I've been laughed at by a Mom's daughter, both with whom I've had interaction, when the daughter, who I've known for over a year opened a donated red box to discover it filled with still tagged slim fitting Victoria's Secret extremely kinky "unmentionables."  "Chris! A good church guy like you brings us this!!!  Thanks!!!"[7]
  • I've taken currently addicted and recovered former residents of Emerald City with me to church at Urban Hope.
  • I've provided the soap, water, and towels to a fair skinned lady back in the morning from her night of dates to wash her blackened flip-flopped feet.  As she did so, I read to her the account of Jesus washing his disciples' feet.  I poured fresh water over her feet and ankles as she wiped away the remaining bubbles.  I looked up at her…  a tiny tear.  No one has seen her since. 

Throughout this, I've said, "I've."  In factual reality, I'm not doing this.  I would not do these things on my own.  I give all the glory to God and I would never change this experience for anything - well, until our LORD may say otherwise.  I show up and awesome things happen in front of me to which I try to respond in the Name of Jesus.

Is this a ministry?  That's not for me to decide. 

Please help me to keep this going.



[1] Individuals there are free to contribute. 
[2] I would do this more if I knew the full names of Emerald City residents.  Very often, all I know is their street name.
[3] I've never needed my Narcan because the residents carry it to use on each other as needed.
[4] This is an example of what makes these communities a 'grass roots' safe injection site.
[5] Is that a word?
[6] I still laugh when I think about the context of that comment.
[7] OK… That wasn't my most wholesome ministry moment but it did open doors of communication to people who may have had reservations about my efforts.  God works in mysterious ways!

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Hazards Faced by Men and Women in Fund Raising to Support Their Addiction

I was recently asked the following question on Facebook:

"Why don't you ever talk about the boys? Why do they get left out of a very real problem?"

If you look through my blogs, you will see stories of men and women.  Sometimes, a story has the opposite gender represented when gender is irrelevant to the point of that story.  It's part of my way of trying to assure anonymity.[1]

Those thoughts aside, let's compare and contrast men and women living addicted and homeless on the streets…

The similarities between men and women…

Men and women all buy, generally speaking, the same drugs from the same dealers.  Some have preferences on where to buy but all buy. 

All use street drugs… There are variations on who uses what and how they use it but all use something, somehow.

Almost all of the men and women I've come to know and love live in tents under one of two different bridges.  Some visit the bridges for a sense of community and live elsewhere.  Some live in abandoned houses and come to the bridges to take their medicine in the community as a way to be as safe as possible.[2] 

Both genders live and laugh and love and hate and fear and feel shame about their current life and hope for a better future.  Both run the risk of going hungry and thirsty, not sleeping for days, overdosing, being revived and overdosing again.
                            
The contrast between men and women comes in the fundraising activities to support their addictions. 

Men stand on street corners and/or at busy intersections with a sign asking for money.  Occasionally, these men are cursed at by passing drivers.  On rare occasions, a driver will throw something at the man.  That item will or will not hit it's intended target. 

Some men spend their days in gas station parking lots asking for change from customers.  On occasion, these men will offer to wash the windows of the customer's car for a dollar.

Some men walk around the area with a shopping cart and look for anything metal that can be taken to the local scrap yard.  It's amazing how much stuff can be hauled in one cartload.  These men had to endure an interruption in their collection delivery following a massive fire at the local salvage yard on July 11th.

Most of the women rely on 'dating' for their income.  While the men are enduring harsh words and occasionally thrown items from passersby, the women are hopping into cars of unknown-to-them men. 

As I shared with you in "I need my Medicine." These women endure tremendous humiliation so as to find the funds to support an addiction they'd rather not have:



Taking mass transit back from a date is not always an option for some of our society's daughters.  I shared this story with you on March 21st of this year:

In Memoriam

Last Thursday, I met a young woman in Emerald City.  I introduced myself as I handed her a water and a banana.  She told me her street name.  It was a fun street name that led us to some enjoyable conversation with smiles and a couple good laughs between us.  Casey told me that on Friday, 24 hours after I met and laughed with this fun named young daughter of her parents, she was on a 'date' and never returned to the bridge.  She was raped and murdered several blocks away. 

Speaking in general terms here: Ladies date to fund the purchase of their medicine.  They don't date because they enjoy it.  Somewhere, somehow, with too many possible storylines to convey here, these ladies became addicted and struggle to find their way out of that addiction.  

I don't know the story of how this young lady ended up dead from dating.  I do know that she did not want to be there or involved in addiction at all.  I also know that she had a great sense of humor and a charming smile that her family will miss for the remainder of their days.

Even when the woman knows the man as being a regular customer, she is not necesarily safe.  Just a few weeks ago, one young lady of these communities hopped into the car of one of her regular 'clients' and had her neck slit by the man hiding in the back seat.  She survived last I heard.

Preparing for their Fund Raising Efforts…

When the men prepare to go raise funds, they walk to their favorite street corner with their cardboard sign or they find a shopping cart and walk for blocks as they look for metal objects. 

When I see them leaving, I say "Be safe, (First Name)."  They say.  "I will."
                                                                                                                                                       
When the women prepare to go raise funds, they do what most any woman would do in preparation for a date.  They will get cleaned up as much as they can on the streets.  They will do their makeup in the reflection of a broken mirror that someone found on the street.  Some of the ladies do their makeup as they gaze at their reflection in the side window of my Chevy Uplander.  The smile of an anticipated date is absent and replaced by solemn thoughts such as:

"Will I find a date before dope sickness sets in?"
"Will I actually be paid?"
"Will I be raped (again)?"
"Will I survive this night?"

When I see them leaving, I say "Be safe, (First Name)."  They say.  "I'll try."




[1] I've written about one person so much (with their permission and knowledge) that I've used both genders and four different names!
[2] These bridge communities are "street level" safe injection sites.