As I begin to type this, I’m sitting in the Applebee's on Aramingo. To my right, a few blocks away, men (mostly) are preparing to call it a night and claim a hollow tube of cement for their bed. These tubes will fairly soon be part of the drainage system for the new section of I-95 that is under reconstruction in this area. These tubes will eventually carry all sorts of yuck from our nation’s highway to some other place out of sight and out of mind. In the meantime, these tubes serve as sleeping space for men who much of society wishes would be out of sight and out of mind. Ironic… Isn’t it?
A few blocks in the other direction is Emerald City, a well-documented community of tremendous suffering and a few good laughs. I’ve been reminiscing about Emerald City with each of my recent visits. Emerald City at 10:00am on Thursday, January 31, will no longer be a community of suffering and grassroots safety. It will become just one more anonymous Conrail overpass welcoming new residents to the area.
In one very real way, that’s fine. People should not be living under bridges and homeowners/renters should not be dodging dirty needles.
But here and now, I am reminiscing about the five overdoses I witnessed under or near that overpass. All were saved by another addicted resident who carried Narcan. I think ahead, wondering if this soon to be dispersed community of daughters and sons will have the same protection once so many have moved alone to abandoned houses. I catch myself wishing that every legitimate detox/rehab in the five-county area would each adopt a few of these men and women so they can reclaim their lives.
As I reminisce, I think of
the men and women who called Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities 'home.' Many who opened their lives to me have moved on. I have no idea where most of them are or if I'll ever see them again.
the Christian woman who always had a Bible opened on a prayer table next to her mattress. She died of pneumonia two weeks after she told me she needed to find a home for her kitten so that she could focus on putting her life back together. The kitten is now full grown and has lived with me since that day.
the tears shed by women and men as they tell me of burnt bridges with family members who they still love. I think of the messages I've passed back and forth between Emerald City residents and family members when direct communication has been far too painful and yet very much wanted and cried for to return.
the sharing of stories of how so many of these fine people wound up there… Almost all of the stories involve some form of trauma.
the two patriarchs of the community when I first arrived. One was a skilled tradesman and the other a pastor. I had the privilege of sitting with them for hours on end over these past two years until both have moved on to parts unknown. I miss them.
the two ladies who were murdered on dates and wonder how their lives would have been saved if the medical and legal communities could have removed all of the barriers to health care before these fateful days for each daughter.
that one drug dealer who discretely and routinely tucked money - anything from a couple dollars to 10 or 15 - into my cooler or banana bag as a way of showing appreciation for visiting and contributing to the community. I recall his tears one day as he told me how much he hates knowing that he is potentially harming people and can't figure out how to stop doing what he does. He's not been there for a long time.
the men who have confided in me their self-loathing, fears and frustrations as they try to reclaim a better life.
the two women in one day who at separate times and unknown one to the other gazed into the side mirror of my Chevy Uplander. One was using it to put on her makeup for her afternoon of dates. The other was using this mirror to pop a couple of pimples. As each one gazed at themselves, I held my cell phone near enough to them so they could hear this song. Each had the same exact reaction. They continued to gaze into the mirror and completely stopped moving as they listened. Months later, both ladies still live in Emerald City.
the man and woman who have managed to stay together as a couple for these two years. I met them when I first arrived and have come to know them for the fine people who they are. They now are in an apartment. I'll be visiting them soon.
the ways I could have done and said various things differently and better as I have related to these good people. I reflect on these words and actions and ask our LORD to show me what led to this word or that action and where and how I need to change.
The list goes on and on of all that I think of as the days of Emerald City come to a close.
The mission will shift from this bridge to other sidewalks and settings. The mission will continue for me and the many people and organizations who reach out to these residents of the streets of Kensington.
 Two of those overdoses were within a ten minute period and both were saved by the same person! Two others required CPR.
 I met the one only 24 hours before her death. To the other, I provided water, soap, and towels so she could wash her blackened flip-flopped feet following a night of 'dates.' As she washed her own feet, with her permission, I read to her the scripture of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.