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.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Archbishop of Canterbury Versus the Homeless Addicted Person

The Archbishop of Canterbury Versus the Homeless Addict

Having grown up as the son of an Episcopal Priest, and an honorable one at that, I had many unusual and wonderful experiences, not the least of which was being in the presence of many bigwigs of the Episcopal Church.  I remember attending a church service led by the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the big boss of the Episcopal and Anglican Church.  If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.  It’s hardly worth your time to understand.  Just understand that the archbishop is one of the high-level organizational managers in the organization known as Episcopal.

In and of itself, the church service was beautiful with its grandness, massive organ and choir performing songs and anthems rooted in Christian Faith.  The robes were stunning and the fragrance of incense suggested majesty and holiness.  The words of the prayers were profound as they requested this and praised that of God.  In the words of one Episcopal priest who I’ve had interaction with, such an experience is part worship and part theater.

Enter the Homeless Addicted Person…

In recent weeks, as my bravery has increased through my ongoing association with Urban Hope, I’ve begun to interact, one on one, with homeless addicts on the streets that line my path between I-95 and 210 East Tioga Ave.   This past Sunday morning, I sat down on a Wawa Store curb with Mickey, “like the mouse” she clarified.  (Her name is Kim until she decides she trusts you with the truth.)  She’s 29 and has been living on the streets for a few months. Her brother killed himself a month ago. A street friend died of an overdose within the past couple of days. Her robe is a hodgepodge of donated oversized clothes and her incense is a stench of body odor made manifest a couple yards away.

Mickey’s words were simple and to the point.  Along with her sharing of the deaths I mentioned above, her requests included handing me some change to go into the Wawa Store to buy her a bottle of water.  (They tell her to leave when she enters on her own.)   She also asked me if I would give her a ride to Lehigh Ave, just a few blocks away.  

When I asked if she was going there to buy her next supply of drugs, she sheepishly nodded in the affirmative with her eyes looking to the ground and her face buried in the fold of her arm.  I explained to her that I couldn’t drive her because I don’t want to help her with her drug addiction and that I don’t want her to die.  I reminded her that I attend Urban Hope Church and I wish she would visit there.

There was a pause and then I said this… 

“Mickey, say these words… ‘I am a good person. God, I need you.”  She looked at me with a bit of confusion and introspection in her eyes.  I repeated… 

“Mickey, say these words… ‘I am a good person. God, I need you.” 

“I am… a… good… person…   God… I need you.” She said in almost a whisper.

“Mickey, repeat it.” I encouraged.

“I am a good person.  God, I need you.” She said in a soft audible voice.

And with that, her humanity leaked out of her soul through her tears…

As she shed those tears, I told her that she just prayed and that God loves her.

There was another moment of silence, the likes of which no theater performance would ever understand.  She stood up from the Wawa curb that separates that store from the Rite Aid parking lot and I joined her. 

At barely 5 feet tall, she looked up at me and said. “Chris, please give me a hug.”  I gave her a hug.
  She turned and began her trek down Aramingo Avenue toward Lehigh to purchase her next round of heroin.

The curb...  I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be.

It is now Tuesday evening after having originally written this blog. Part of the story that I did not mention was that I was able to give Mickey a small supply of clothes that had been given to me to give to a homeless woman. When I saw her today she was wearing those clothes and looking much better and much more proud of herself. Through this experience I've come to realize that it's one thing to deliver clothes for someone else to distribute. It is far more exciting to distribute the clothes directly to the person in need. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Just Four People Standing On A Street Corner

 At about 9:00 am this past Sunday, May 21, 2017, I got stopped by a red light at the corner of B Street and Lehigh Avenue in Kensington.  Autumn was standing on the dotted line with her “Hungry” sign.  I handed her two oranges and a piece of paper with Urban Hope’s schedule of weekly activities.  She accepted it with a mild smile as I invited her and her husband David to church.  She declined the invitation and then had the audacity to tell me to have a good day.  It seemed audacious to me coming from a woman who has been living addicted on the streets longer than I’ve been coming to Urban Hope.

It was now about 9:30 am.  I was in the back of the church, near the sound system booth and chatting about David and Autumn with Tommy, a young man who has been delivered from his days of addiction and selling.  We decided to go find them and invite them to church.  As I approached B Street on East Gurney Street which parallels “The Tracks,” I saw them exactly where I had seen her a few minutes earlier.  One way streets being what they are, I rounded the block as quickly as I could while keeping in mind the elderly nature of my Chevy Uplander and the bumps of the Brick Road under of me.

By the time we got to where they had been when I saw them, they were now where I had been when I saw them.  (I should have just parked!)  I called out to them as they crossed Gurney Street while carrying two Wawa bags filled with recently purchased or given food supplies.  Tommy hopped out and went to chat with them while I got the van properly parked.  I got out and joined the conversation there on the corner of B and Gurney, standing next to the stop sign seen at seconds 19-21 in the video to the left.  

And so there we were, four human beings, three men and one woman standing on a street corner conversing - about heroin- their interest in it and our interest in getting them uninterested in it.  Two of us were inviting the other two to church.  Tommy was to my right while Autumn was to my left.  Tommy was wearing his green Urban Hope Shirt.  I wasn’t.  David, with his noticeably missing beard and much shorter hair, was in front of me.  I could not help but notice Autumn’s recently acquired men’s Carhart pants many sizes larger than needed and held up by a bandana belt pulling four belt loops together in the back.

As we chatted, David made it clear that they were meeting someone soon.  As he did so, he bent over and picked up what looked like a Wriggly gum wrapper.  He was looking for leftover drugs.  As I looked down, I realized we were standing in a section of the street with these opened wrappers all over the place.  The conversation ended friendly and we all went our own way, them to their next purchase and us to worship our LORD. 

As Tommy and I drove the five or six blocks back to Urban Hope, he shared with me his insider interpretation on our conversation.  Right now, David and Autumn don’t want out of their current life.  With enough obvious Christian love through prayer from those reading this blog, face to face conversation, oranges and granola bars, that may change one day.  Anyone can be made Clean in Christ. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Names and Labels

Names and labels are almost synonymous and I’ll be considering them to be one and the same for this discussion.  I’ve been called a lot of names over the years and I’ve been given labels in near equal proportion to the names.  It’s the painful names and labels that stick the most.  They are like thorny briars that stick to my clothes and skin as I make my way through the natural paths of life. 

My painful names and labels have included pea-brain, retard, idiot, dummy, not worth it, so over you, lazy, demonstrate-signs-of-Aspergers, no wherewithal, and more in that genre.   For as much as I tried to fight off those names and labels and even though I had wonderful parents who did what they could in my early years of that battle, the names stung and built within me a lack of belief in myself that continues to this day as remnant scars on my soul even though I know I am an adopted child of God with all the privileges that come with that.

Since becoming involved in Urban Hope, I’ve discovered another slant on this topic of names and labels.  Allow me to set the stage for you…

You’re driving in your car and you come up to a red light.  Standing on the cement barrier that separates northbound from southbound is someone holding a sign that reads “hungry” or “help.”  If you dare to look at them when they are looking some other direction, you might notice filth, ratty clothes and matted hair.  Under your breath or to the other people in your car, you might make some comment like “Loser,” “Dirtball,” “Addict,” “Lowlife” or other similar names within that genre.

They know it too.  They know that most of the society looks down on them as we tilt our noses toward the ceiling of our Mercedes or BMW.  (Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh but it is all too typical.)   The names we often apply to them are in the same genre as the names that had been applied to me for an unfortunate chunk of my life.

Through my involvement with Urban Hope, I’ve come to appreciate that there’s another set of names to attach to these cement barrier walkers.  It’s a genre of name that we all bear.  Mine is Chris.  Yours is __________.  There has been David and Autumn, Steve, Gina, John and Gabriella, Martha and more.

Take a moment to get to know this genre of name for the person behind the inappropriate name or label.  You’ll be amazed to discover a real human being made in the image of God and worthy of dignity, honor, respect and love.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

David and Autumn, The Tracks and Their Fruit

In my last blog about David and Autumn, I told you that they were dashing up toward "The Tracks" and in all likelihood, they were meeting their heroin dealer for their next purchase. I told you about the fruit I bought for them but could not deliver because I could not find them.

Three days later, with the fruit having been stored in my fridge, today about 7:00pm, I was driving in the same area and had just passed the bridge seen in the above video.  I looked down B Street and there they were, dashing toward me and heading to the area featured in this video.  I pulled my car over to the side of the street and hopped out, stepping onto the old red cobblestone/brick road.  I grabbed my two oranges and two grapefruit that I had specifically packaged for this heroin addicted married couple and called out to them as they began to cross East Gurney Street at this intersection.

David looked a bit panicked as if he had a very important appointment and briskly proceeded across the street.  Autumn slowed down and looked a bit shocked as I handed her the clear plastic bag with the fruit I'd asked them about three days earlier.  She gladly accepted it and another copy of Urban Hope's weekly schedule.  "I'll be back Tuesday and I'll look for you two then." I said.  She said "OK.  See you then." as she took a drag from the cigarette butt (There was no actual cigarette left.) in her mouth.  I turned and stepped back into my car as a few young adults continued their game of catch in the street 20 feet in front of me.

Nice story...  What makes it especially noteworthy to me is that I don't typically take that route home.  I always go a route one block off of Gurney Street.  Add my conversation with Ed Lewis and my drive with one of the families of Urban Hope into the timing of this experience with David and Autumn and I can clearly see God's hand arranging the timing of meeting them right at the entrance of the footpath leading down to to "The Tracks' - the bullseye of the drug epidemic in Kensington, in Philadelphia and, sadly, the entire east coast of our nation.

Our Lord has given me an incredible sense of peace as I've been doing what I'm doing.  I don't see adicts.  I see human beings, men and women made in the image of God who for reasons of their own have wound up as they have.  I know there is hope for each one of them too.  Urban Hope and the recovery ministry led by my friends Rick and Brenda Cartagena have proven to me that there is not one person on the face of this earth who is beyond healing regardless of their situation.  That healing can only be found in Christ.

I encourage you to visit Urban Hope and to support its mission.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What has happened to me?!

What has happened to me?!

Earlier this evening, I was casually chatting a quarter block away from "The Tracks" section of Kensington with David and Autumn. They are a heroin addicted homeless married couple I've been getting to know bit by bit since starting to attend Urban Hope Church in September. I've been giving them granola bars and a piece of paper that has Urban Hope's weekly schedule on it. I've been sure to tell them about the addiction recovery meeting that happens every Thursday night at 7pm.

Tonight was different. I went to Kensington with the goal of finding David and Autumn and taking them to Urban Hope’s Christian Faith based addiction recovery meeting.  I know their regular routine of being at certain intersections at particular times of each day.  How ironic (to those who know my life story) that I found them tonight near Episcopal Hospital. 

As we casually chatted while standing on the street corner of B and Lehigh, I could not help but notice David’s bright blue eyes and very long beard and Autumn’s facial hair, nose ring and rotting teeth.  On this cool night, he was wearing a filthy baseball jacket while she wore a 3/4th length rather formal looking and equally filthy women’s dress coat that may have hung in a closet on the Main Line section of Delaware County a week earlier.  

We chatted about recovery and how they might get a free dinner if they went to this meeting.  I told them that I wanted them to get the help they needed and that was met with genuine smiles of appreciation.  They explained that they would like to go with me but were meeting a friend soon.  That friend was, I think, down in the Tracks.  In other words, their next hit of heroin was waiting to be purchased with the money “earned” from people with cars who think they are being helpful by giving a dollar to one of them.  Keep in mind that dollar innocently given when added to the other nine dollars innocently given may equal their death if that $10.00 heroin hit is too strong or something other than heroin – and it often is these days. 

I returned to my car and as I did, they briskly walked past me on their way to the tracks.  I called out to them and asked what type of fruit they like.  Autumn likes oranges and David likes Grapefruit.  We laughed about how much I hate grapefruit and then they went on to, presumably, make their heroin purchase.  I went on and drove over the bridge seen in the opening seconds of this documentary and to the store to buy oranges and grapefruit for a total of $6.66 (Did the demon of addiction find its way into my fruit purchase?)

I didn’t find them to give them any fruit because they were most likely under that bridge with their heroin or dead under that bridge from that heroin lased with something else.  I hope I see them Sunday…

What has happened to me?