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.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Suicide by Deliberate Overdose Averted and Two Tiramisus To Go

One of the privileges of relational ministry is to walk alongside another human being in their darkest times.  I've had such privileges several times since visiting the good people of the streets of Kensington over this past couple of years.  This only happens in depth when trust has been realized and that only comes with time.

One of these experiences happened recently when I was contacted by a resident of the streets who has been doing everything they can possibly think of to find detox and healing.[1] 

I won’t even go into the details of all that this person has tried to do to find healing.  Those details are actually already mentioned in general terms throughout this blog series.

Imagine if you will, being required by your body to inject a drug that you are well aware may kill you before you can even remove the needle from your being.  If you are a lady on the street, imagine knowing that your only source of income to buy that drug that may kill you is to rent out your body to a guy who may be kind to you or who may kill you.  Imagine being called every conceivable harsh term often used to describe a woman who walks the street in this way. 

Are you getting the idea?

I’m not done…

Imagine knowing that your children have been taken away from you permanently, your family has turned their back on you, you have several STDs, blisters, abscesses, and, most recently, a doctor has told you that your organs are failing due to your drug use that you’d like to stop but can’t because you can’t get into a detox unit without jumping through so many hoops that your mind blows just thinking about it.

Multiply all of that by a factor of 10 or more and add on top of that the torment that you feel in your soul because, in reality, you are a very committed Christian who knows that all of this is wrong and you’d like to stop but can’t.

Are you starting to understand?

Now hold those thoughts for a moment…

What is a heroin overdose?

An overdose occurs when a person consumes more heroin in one injection than their body can handle.  That’s really all an overdose is…

Just as you might ‘overdose’ on pizza and end up with indigestion, any drug addicted person could end up with death by injecting to much drug in one dose.  It’s just that simple…

Now let’s combine these two topics…

If my life is a living hell from which I can not find my way out and no one around me seems to know or care what to do then all I need to do is inject more heroin than my body can handle in one injection.  My obvious solution to this misery is literally at my fingertips with far more ease than using a gun or rope or stepping into traffic.  I’ll simply fade away and never know I’ve died.

This is the place in which one of my street friends found themselves a few weeks ago.  Well, actually, my description is a faded shadow of their reality over those days.

I was deeply concerned and sought prayers and professional guidance on what to do.  With the seemingly guaranteed day of earthly departure come and gone, when I received a text the following morning indicating he was still with us, I sighed and cried in relief.  

Permission to photograph
was obtained from
Mr. Croquette Potato Head.
The tiramisus did not
want to be photographed.
Out of respect,
I've used this very similar
photo from the web.
We met for lunch.  Both of us ordered French Onion Soup.  He had a chocolate milkshake and I had the happiest chicken croquettes with mashed potatoes and gravy that I’ve ever seen!

On the way out, there was one more temptation to overcome and fall victim too:

Those gorgeous desserts in the display case right at the cash register!!!

It didn’t take long to identify what we were getting…

“Two tiramisus[2] to go, please.”

[1] To say that the medical system is so outrageously incapable of providing care for those who need it at the volume it is needed these days in this current crisis is one of the understatements of the century. 
[2] an Italian dessert made with layers of sponge cake soaked in espresso coffee, Marsala, mascarpone cheese, and chocolate

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Dear Emergency Room and Urgent Care Staff,

Dear Emergency Room and Urgent Care Staff,

More than once, I have sat with a man or woman as they have been treated in your facility. On occasion, these good people have been admitted to your hospital for the primary cause of their visit.  Almost always, that cause has as its underlying issue, the addiction for which they suffer and the lifestyle that this addiction brings.  Pneumonia[1], acute diarrhea[2], bruises and breaks, slashes to the face, black eyes and torn ligaments from being hit by cars, motorcycles and abusive 'dates' are a few examples.   Pre-existing conditions made worse by life on the streets include diabetes[3], epilepsy[4], multiple sclerosis[5], arthritis[6] and more. 

For the many who come to you for service and don't need to be admitted for their presenting medical issues, far too often, I've seen you say "Have a good day."   Occasionally, and far less than most of the time, I've seen you hand them a sheet of paper with names and phone numbers "of places that might be able to help you (tomorrow or on Monday when they reopen) with your addiction."

As they leave patched up but still emotionally/spiritually bleeding to death from their addiction of which you were fully aware and did not apply your medical training, you are setting them up for additional crisis of which you may not be aware.

When you say "Have a good day." to that man you've treated, he leaves to continue his day, not feeling well from whatever brought him to you but on the mend thanks to whatever treatment you've provided.  He will go to his local street corner to 'fly a sign' that says "Hungry".  His increasingly emaciated appearance will actually help prove his case to folks who get stuck at his red light and are forced to consider this man for a minute.  Some may actually give him some change or random food item that they happen to have.  Others may yell or spit at him.  Some who know they won't get stuck at that light will throw things at him as they pass by.

When you say "Have a good day." to that woman you've treated, she leaves to continue her day, not feeling well from whatever brought her to you but on the mend thanks to whatever treatment you've provided. 

She will go to her local street corner to stand there well dressed seemingly waiting for a specific person to pick her up for a meeting when in fact she's standing there well dressed waiting for that random male to pick her up to use her for his own purposes.

Her increasingly emaciated appearance will actually hinder her ability to find a "safe date."  Through her own experiences and those of other ladies on the street, she will begin to realize that her natural physical beauty has faded to the point where "the only dates I can get are with guys who want to hurt ugly girls like me."

Some guy will stop to scan her and decide "She'll do."[7]  With fear, she gets into his broken down car or classy high end vehicle and they drive away. 

Half a day after being in your health care facility and four hours after hearing in a phone conversation the above bold red highlighted quote, the author thereof was assaulted by such a guy and would have been raped if she had not "kicked the shit out of him to get away from that car parked in a back alley many blocks away."  She continued:  "I walked those many blocks back to the bridge and he followed me in his car most of the way shouting horrible things at me the entire time."

Realizing that finding safe dates due to her declined physical beauty, women of the street may be tempted to turn to a pimp[8] who will arrange for dates to come to her.  Such is the case with one woman who has shared these thoughts with me.  Again, to drive home my point with you, this woman was in your health care facility not long before starting to consider this option.

Physicians and nurses of the E.R. and Urgent Care, each one of you have, upon your graduation pledged your career to some version of the Hippocratic Oath.  While your version may have been slightly different, the following is, I'm sure, a reasonable representation thereof.  I have made bold and red, the points therein that most apply to this open letter to you:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians 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 [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine 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 recovery.
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 humbleness 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, 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 and remembered 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.
—Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.

Finally E.R. and Urgent Care Staff:  The next time any man or woman comes to your facility, please inquire into what your organization can do in the here and now for them to combat their addiction.


[1] an inflammation of one or both lungs, usually caused by infection from a bacterium or virus or, less commonly, by a chemical or physical irritant
[2] frequent and excessive discharging of the bowels producing thin watery feces, usually as a symptom of gastrointestinal upset or infection
[3] a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine.
[4] a medical disorder involving episodes of irregular electrical discharge in the brain and characterized by the periodic sudden loss or impairment of consciousness, often accompanied by convulsions
[5] a serious progressive disease of the central nervous system, occurring mainly in young adults and thought to be caused by a malfunction of the immune system. It leads to the loss of myelin in the brain or spinal cord and causes muscle weakness, poor eyesight, slow speech, and some inability to move.
[6] a medical condition affecting a joint or joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness
[7] This is, of course, after multiple guys have stopped to scan her and then tell her to her face that she's far too ugly for "this line of service." 
[8] somebody, usually a man, who finds customers for a prostitute in return for a portion of the prostitute's earnings

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Tale of Addiction, One Set of Fraternal Twins And Two Sets of Simulated Hardwood Floors

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 gene of 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.  Phone calls and arrangements were made for John to enter a 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 detox clearing unit several blocks away.

With enough money in hand, he bought the extra dope, and then walked to the detox clearing unit, 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.  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."

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 main 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

Monday, November 26, 2018

E.R. Staff… Please ask the question.

Recently, I had the privilege of being asked by 'Ellie' a resident of Emerald City to take her to a Philadelphia emergency room for an injury directly related to IV drug use.  The triage nurse asked Ellie how the injury came to be.  My friend from the streets of Kensington openly stated heroin use.  The response was simply, "Okay."

As our time in the E.R. progressed, Ellie was met with basic professionalism.  Her injury was checked and a course of action suggested to which Ellie made the final decision on what course to take.  In and of itself, all that is fine, just fine…

But it's not fine…

Ellie's injury was as they would say in a medical chart, "secondary to IV drug use."  The fact was known to and acknowledged by the medical and nursing staff as they professionally interacted with Ellie regarding her injury.  At no time did anyone inquire as to Ellie's interest in seeking medical care for the primary cause of her injury.  Ellie's injury was a symptom of a disease.  The E.R. staff was willing to treat the symptom but not treat the disease.

If they had asked about Ellie's interest in seeking detox, she would have told them about the numerous attempts to get into a detox facility - any detox facility - for the past few months.  People in Ellie's situation have spent so much time in waiting rooms that dope sickness has set in and they have had to make the choice to inject themselves in the facility's restroom with heroin that they have smuggled in or leave and lose their place in line to inject their medicine.

On another attempt, Ellie was told that she could not enter detox without being medically cleared in light of the injury that led her to this emergency room visit.  She left dejected, in need of heroin, penniless and now forced to walk the streets to find a date.  A date found her and before it was over by way of Ellie's kicks to his face, this date would have ended in one more episode of Ellie being raped.

Addicted people who live on the streets don't just head to the local E.R. when something hurts.  They do what they can to take care of their situation on their own.  This includes possible pneumonia and broken limbs. It takes a lot to finally make that decision to seek professional help.  This was Ellie's situation.  And so here she was…

Professional medical caregivers were all around her and no one asked if she would like assistance with medically caring for her disease of addiction.  She has tried so hard to find healing…  Maybe, just maybe, the right question, asked with a caring tone from a professional who has been preauthorized to make it happen could redirect Ellie's life starting that very moment…

But there was no question.  Ellie is out there, somewhere, still injured and in pain, wanting detox, eating our discarded other people's saliva laden leftovers, dreaming of detox, walking blocks for a shower, desperate for detox, out there - in her own words - "whoring" to earn money to inject a drug that she does not want to consume and risking rape.

E.R. Staff…  Please ask the question.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Let's imagine…

In this Article titled "Addiction Treatment Comes to the Emergency Department," the author opens with this statement that caught my eye.  I've made bold and Red the portion that I will focus on in this blog.

People with opioid addiction often come to the emergency department (ED), some because they have overdosed, and others because they are suffering in withdrawal. Teams work to revive the patient who has overdosed or to treat others suffering the symptoms of withdrawal. After that, the typical next step for emergency physicians is to refer patients to addiction treatment services. Then the patient is discharged.

Imagine if, instead, the emergency department team used these encounters to offer patients treatment on the spot for the underlying disease of addiction?

Let's imagine…

If treatment for the disease of addiction was provided in emergency rooms according to the needs of the patient with the disease of addiction just as a patient with the disease of diabetes[1] was provided treatment according to the needs of their disease:

The architect whose entire family was wiped out in one drunk driving accident - not of his doing - would be reshaping a skyline and not standing at a street corner holding a cardboard sign that reads "Hungry."

The tradesman who has built countless homes would be at his trade and not pushing a shopping cart filled with metal to the local recycling junkyard.

Dad would be providing for his wife and children.

Mom would be tucking her son in each night and reading to him poetry that she wrote specifically for him.

Sister would be present on the day that she becomes an aunt for the first time.

Pastor would be preaching from the front of his appointed church.

The neurosurgeon medical student would be performing surgeries and not living on the street.

The only child of her parents would not be sitting in a jail cell for the next couple of years.

The house filled with electronics would never have been robbed.

Black eyes and slashed throats, assaults and rapes and murders would not have happened on the "dates" of our nation's daughters.

Dads would be Dads.

Moms would be Moms.

Sisters and Brothers and Uncles and Aunts and all other combinations of relationship would be in relationship with their loved ones.

This year's Thanksgiving Dinner table would not have one place setting empty in memory of who was here last year and never will be again.

Let's imagine…

And act on our imaginings.

[1] Or any disease

Monday, November 19, 2018

An Entity Named "Addict"

Throughout this blog series, I have not used actual names of people whose stories I've told.  Some names have been given to me to use as a blog name by the actual person I'm writing about.  Occasionally, I've changed the gender of the person in the story so as to add anonymity.  When I see an opportunity to do so and to further add anonymity, I will blend similar stories that bear a common theme.

Like nearly every rule and procedure in life, there is the occasional needed exception.  Today, I want to tell you the true story of an entity actually named "Addict."

The entity named Addict lives in an incredible number of people.  Addict's life goal is to destroy its host, the person within whom it resides. 

Addict itself is genderless and takes on the gender of its host. 

Addict easily takes on the traits, skills, abilities and educational level of its host.  Addict can reside in a human who performed the most delicate of surgeries or reshaped a city skyline through architectural design or pastured a church just as easily as the human who never saw the inside of a school.
I've met Addict residing in an architect, a pastor, a poet, a musician, a social worker, a professional counselor, men and women of various trades, a lawyer, a business owner, an almost neurosurgeon, a nurse and so many more.  I've met Addict residing in men and women whose celebrity relatives are people who I know you would know.

Addict sets up its residence in each of these people and determines to destroy them from the inside.

One of Addict's first goals upon moving in is to isolate its host from their family and close friends.  It does so by taking this otherwise rational, intelligent, kind and thoughtful friend and family member and turning them into someone no one who loves them would have ever anticipated, including its unwitting host themselves.  Through words and deeds, the bridges that connect this unwitting host of Addict to friends and family members are eroded and often collapse.  Addict celebrates these moments of connection destruction because, now, it will be much easier to further destroy its host.

With bridges broken, Addict's next goal is to further destroy any remaining thoughts of self-worth that its host may hold.  Joblessness and Homelessness are often a result.  Steal and be stolen from becomes the new norm.  Theft by deception becomes commonplace.  Otherwise reasonable people connive to survive.
In time, and not much time at all, the man, a self-respecting architect, becomes in his mind, a "worthless hobo."  The deeply committed Christian lady becomes, in her mind, "an ugly hooker who can only attract men who like to hurt ugly white girls like me."

If there's anything I've come to understand about Addict and its life mission of destroying its host, it is this:  Addict can be evicted from its host!  Hosts of Addict scream for help all the time in obvious ways that can be summed up with this now removed S.O.S. sign that was painted on the Frankford Avenue Conrail overpass wall above the tent homes of men and women who lived there until last week when they were evicted by the City…

It is beyond the role of this blog to tell you, as family, friend, church or religious community, or City of Brotherly Love how to love the person and people hosting Addict.  Your answer can be found by you in these words from First Corinthians:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

Find a way to fulfill this scripture and this sign which, as of yesterday, could still be found on the opposite side of the bridge from the above S.O.S. sign...

Evict Addict Through Love.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Living Room Floor

With eviction notices having gone up on Frankford Avenue on October 15th, the process of finding housing for anyone who was "eligible" and "ready" was put into high gear. 

Before I get to the part of this story involving a particular living room floor, you need to understand that for many people who find themselves living on the streets, the sidewalk around and under their tent becomes their home.  The residents of neighboring tents become their neighbors.  Some people living in these situations seemingly forget that there is another way to live.

I've shared with you from time to time about how I've sat outside of a tent and chatted with a person or group of people in the same manner and with the same level of comfort that you do so in your living room with your friends who have come to visit you in your home.  Your living room has walls hold paintings.  It contains a sofa and chairs on which to sit and tables with table lamps providing light.  These under-the-Conrail-overpass living rooms have a wall, heavy posts that hold up the bridge, loud cars and motorcycles and occasional passersby who shout various vulgarities at the residents who they don't care to know as humans.  This is their living room.

Most of the people I've written about in this blog series are now in housing.  Some of the men and women I've come to know and love moved into their new homes throughout the city before I knew they were leaving.  I can only hope to visit them sometime soon, this time, in their apartment homes. 

This past Saturday was the exception to that.  This past Saturday, I helped a friend move some of their belongings to the new home of a mutual friend who had just been granted her new apartment.  With pride and relief in her words and tone, she gave me the grand tour of her home.  It's a one bedroom apartment with a large walk in closet, open kitchen and spacious living room.

The Living Room

In her living room containing a sofa and two side tables topped off by table lamps, "Allie" started unpacking boxes.  This was her moment to savor.  I wasn't about to "help."  The first box was filled with small decorative items, some of which were from her previous residence under the overpass.  Allie reviewed each item, occasionally shared a story with me about it and placed it on her bookshelf next to her apartment entry door.  As she did so, I sat on her living room floor and savored every second.  At one point, I even laid down and said "Allie, do you understand how happy I am for you and to be here and laying on your living room floor!?"  She smiled and kept unpacking her items, placing them, arranging them with pride, on her shelves next to her door in her apartment.

There are a couple new ingredients in Allie's battle with addiction.  Dignity and pride have joined forces with Allie's already existent hope and determination in ending her ongoing battle with the disease of addiction.  Yes.  That's right.  In case you thought otherwise, let me clarify an important point.  This receipt of housing for Allie and the others I've come to know and love, was not contingent upon being "clean" of drug consumption.  Allie has shared with me her dignity and pride bolstered plan to put her need for medicine behind her.  With dignity, pride, hope and determination which live inside her and with the support and prayers of people who love her, Allie will succeed in her journey toward achieving her drug free life and her lifelong goals

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I want my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.

This statement which I have personalized is taken from the writings and preaching of Dr. Tony Campolo who I came to know, at least a bit, while I was a student at Eastern University.[1]

None of us can take on all the needs of this world.  We cannot, nor should we, allow ourselves to have Jesus' broken heart for every category of crisis that exists on this planet.  But we can choose one of those categories of crisis and allow our hearts to bleed with the Blood of Jesus and make a difference in that realm.

To that end, for the past couple of years, I have been visiting the people on the streets of Kensington, a section of Philadelphia considered to be the east coast bullseye of our nation's current heroin epidemic.[2]

I've discovered addicted and homeless human beings who are worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love. 

I've sat with these people as they have stuck needles in the veins of their legs, arms, neck, and face in an attempt to self-administer their required "Medicine." 

I've chatted with them casually one on one and in groups in various settings from the sidewalk to Applebees. 

I've distributed bananas, water, pizza, clothes, blankets, and song lyrics.

I've visited them in hospitals and in jail. 

I've provided first aid items for wounds of abscess, ice for black eyes following "dates" that ended in violence and aspirin for toothaches.

I've assisted with four overdoses that needed Narcan.

I've given hugs to ladies as they leave for and return from their "dates."

I've come to know relatives who ache for the day when their adult child, niece, nephew, Mom or Dad will find their way out of their addiction and back to their family dinner table.

To date, of the deaths of which I know specifics, I've lost two to overdose, two to rape and murder, one to pneumonia, and a couple others to medical situations related to addiction.  I lost one who I knew a tiny bit just a week or so ago when she was killed by an out of control car who ran over her as she slept on her mattress on the sidewalk. 

Did you catch the message in that last paragraph?  I've lost more people to non-overdose addiction-related death than I have to overdose itself!

I want my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.

Throughout the preceding paragraphs, I've referred to these efforts as being my own efforts.  The truth is that chickenhearted Chris Battin would never do this stuff.  In my own strength, I would never have the nerve to casually walk under the bridges of Emerald Street and Frankford Avenue or down Kensington Avenue.  Through the suburban teachings of my youth, I would not ever have engaged in conversation with "those kinds of people," "those unfortunates," "those hookers/whores/prostitutes[3]," "those drug dealers." 

This is not me doing this.  It is not even me who found this outreach/ministry opportunity.  The storylines in my life that led me to this life changing experience are too long to share here and now.  Suffice it to say that God did what God did and here I am.

I wouldn't trade this for the world.  I just wish I could do more of it.

I want my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.            

What breaks your heart? 

[1] "Eastern College" in my day
[2] There are many individuals and organizations doing similar things.
[3] Forgive me for using those words in my writings.  I despise those words.  I try to never use them but from time to time, I need to so as to make my point.  Each one of you who may feel that these words are your title is worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Just Imagine…

My heart is breaking for a health care system that does not treat addicted people when they are "ready" to be treated.
In physical trauma, "readiness" is determined by the incident. Something happens and you need to get patched up.
With addiction, it is not quite that obvious but the need is just as great. The lack of medical care when the person is "ready" to receive it means that x number of bags of dope must be injected and x number of dates must be done so as to financially support the purchase of x number of bags. The end result of people not getting care when they are ready is: more people, made in the image of God, on the street, doing "tricks" occasionally getting their necks slashed, being raped at gunpoint or being crushed by an out of control car as they sleep on the sidewalk - all because the medical system that created and didn't control opioid use can't bring itself to correct their own gross error, acknowledge their mistake and take steps to save the lives of those people who they have all but destroyed.
When a human being suffering from addiction decides they are "ready," they should know that they can go to any medical facility and say "I'm ready." That House of Hippocrates should say "Welcome. Let's get started."
Imagine how many
• overdoses would never happen,
• slashed throats, black eyes, and rapes on "dates" would have been prevented,
• people would not die of pneumonia, drug-related heart and other organ issues,
• people would not be crushed by cars,
• arrests would not happen,
• how empty our jails would be and
• parents would be reunited with their children.
Just Imagine…

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Cloth Door - No More

I've shared with you from time to time, the stories of Demetrius and Cecelia.  I first met this couple in July of 2016 when I started visiting Emerald City.  I've given them rides, gone out to eat and visited one of them in jail.  I've sat in the doorway of their tent.  I've come to know them for the people who they are and not for the disease they have endured.  Here's what I wrote about one such encounter:

As of a couple weeks ago, Demetrius and Cecelia have moved on from Emerald City and their cloth door.  They live in an apartment with the help of some city programming and their own determination.  When I saw Demetrius yesterday, he said that they would like to have a housewarming party.  I asked him what they need most.  "Extension cords?"  His face beamed with that well known Demetrius smile.  "Yes!  Extension cords!  Man, you have no idea how badly we need extension cords!  The building is very old and has one plug in each room.  We really need extension cords!" 

And then Demetrius added this footnote:  "You can't imagine how fantastic it is to go from years of living in a tent to needing extension cords!!!"

Sunday, September 30, 2018

An Incredible Act of Kindness…

Today is Sunday.  Three days ago, on Thursday afternoon, I was visiting Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities and became very involved in a conversation with one of the residents.  When that conversation ended, I was focused on my love and concern for that person and not thinking about my Rubbermaid cooler sitting in the street near the curb and which had been recently donated to me for this purpose.  I hopped in my car and drove home.

Two days later, yesterday, I realized that the cooler was missing.  I immediately presumed that I'd never see it again and that I'd need to buy a new one for almost $70.00 so as not to disclose my own stupidity in not keeping track of donations. 

Upon arrival in Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities this morning, a man I've known for a few weeks immediately came up to me and told me that he had been holding my cooler for me.  This man is a dual addicted African American man, the likes of which would intimidate any suburban person.  And yet, here he was, letting me know that he was holding my cooler for me. 

Big deal!?

Well…  Yes!

This man held my cooler for me for three days in an environment a bit known for theft.  If that's enough, this man held my cooler through the weekly Friday "cleanout" committed by the City of Brotherly Love, a cleanout that requires the residents to move EVERY item in their position out from under the bridge and back under the bridge within 15 minutes of the time cleanout is done or risk losing all possessions.

And so…

This man, this African American Dual addicted homeless man, demonstrated so much kindness to me in keeping my cooler for me that I've been left humbled and speechless the remainder of this day…

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tears For Cecelia...

Cecelia is a gentle spirit barely surviving in the urban thistle of addiction, prostitution, and trying to survive on the streets of Kensington while residing under a bridge.  I've known her for about 18 months.  I've come to know members of her family.  All love her and she loves them.  There does remain that river of despair that separates them from each other.  A bridge of love manages to keep them connected if but by the thinnest of thread. 

A couple of days ago, I saw Cecelia high as a kite, sitting in a chair barely aware of her surroundings.  My heart broke for her as I considered all that she could be and all that her family prays for her to become once again.  I touched her chin and she gazed at me through blurred sad eyes.  I reminded her of her family's love and I named each with whom I've had interaction by name.  There was only the mildest of reactions.  I stepped away.

No sooner had I gotten maybe 20 feet from Cecelia, that she slowly rose from her plastic chair, navigated past two tents, waddled up to me, hugged me and held on for maybe 20 or 30 seconds. 

I reminded her of her family's love, again, naming each one who I've come to know by name. 

She continued to hold on. 

I reminded her of God's love. 

She held on. 

I reminded her of my love for her in the Name of Jesus. 

She held on as if a broken kitten. 

A moment of silence and then…

Without saying a word, she let go and made her way back to her plastic chair…

I turned and cried.

Pastoral Care Under a Bridge - The Thorn in Pastor Martin's Side

People reading this may think that this blog is going to be about those well-intentioned men and women who visit Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities to provide pastoral care in the Name of Jesus.  That's a fine group of people but that's not who this blog is about.

This blog is about a man I'm calling Martin.  More accurately, I'm calling him Pastor Martin.  I've known Pastor Martin for the whole time I've been visiting these good people, these sons and daughters and moms and dads who call the underside of two Conrail overpasses "home."

Martin was ordained into the pastorate of God's church many years ago.  At some point since then, the demon of addiction found its way into his being and derailed his church pastorate.  Or did it?  One thing led to another on this all too well-known path and now Pastor Martin lives under these overpasses and calls them home.

When I first met Pastor Martin, I would not ever have guessed that within a very few months, I would begin to form a friendship with him which increasingly emphasizes pastoral care of the members of these communities that I visit and he lives within.  But I have. 

Pastor Martin is in good company with men of God who suffer!  Please take a moment to read this passage and follow the lettered footnotes I've added as I compare The Apostle Paul with the Pastorate of Martin.

2 Corinthians 12 New International Version (NIV)
Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh[A], a messenger of Satan[B], to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me[C]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. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults[D], in hardships, in persecutions[E], in difficulties[F]. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Pastor Martin's church is not made up of bricks and mortar[G], stucco, ivy, nor stained glass.  It has no organ, nor choir nor board of directors.  Pastor Martin's church is the purest form of church you might ever witness.  He suffers with his thorn and ministers and offers authentic Biblical counsel when the thorn allows him to do so.  He knows the sheep of his pasture otherwise known to the rest of us as the people of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities in a way that none of us who visit can do. 

If you are into pastoral care and you want to know how to best minister to these good people on the streets of Kensington, sit down with Pastor Martin as your peer in ministry and learn from him.  Your ministry will be better for it.

[A] Addiction                                                                                                                               
[B] How many times do we all refer to addiction as a demon?
[C] Over the years, Pastor Martin has been in detox and been "clean" for various periods of time.
[D] Pastor Martin and those with whom he lives, endure insults from drivers as they shout terrible things from the safety of their car windows.
[E] Persecutions: "the subjecting of a race or group of people to cruel or unfair treatment."  Pastor Martin and the community experiences some form of this almost daily.
[F] Hardships and Difficulties: Too many to list here, everything from living there to seeking help and resolution to the issues at hand and hitting road blocks with every attempt.
[G] Other than those that keep the rail line from crashing down.