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As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Doing Homeless Addict Ministry with a Homeless Addict

Each Sunday after Church, Urban Hope provides lunch to everyone who attended church for $1.00 per plate.  Today’s lunch was ham and cheese sandwiches and chips.  Way more sandwiches were prepared than what were actually needed.  Angie asked me if I’d like to take them to distribute to the homeless addicts I’ve been getting to know.  And that opened up the door to an afternoon adventure.

Once Kingdom Kids was over for the day, I took a tray of 20+- sandwiches with me.  I was still wearing my Urban Hope Green Tee Shirt as I drove along “The Tracks” area looking for David and Autumn with no luck.  I kept alert for Gina along Lehigh Avenue so she would have food for her family for tonight.  No luck there either.  When I arrived at the Wawa Store on Aramingo, I immediately found Mickey.  She came up to my car and I told her I had dinner for her if she’s hungry.  She was shocked to see such a large tray and stated that she couldn’t carry that much food around.  She sat in my car and enjoyed sandwich number one as we chatted about her life and while she wrestled with her ever drifting bandana head covering.  She shared with me that she’s been on the street for four years, is addicted to Cocaine but doesn’t do too much these days.  Alcohol addiction is her primary issue.[1]  I gave her the leather purse that I mentioned in my last blog and she was thrilled to see the Yardley soaps and powder and creams. 

Still wrestling with her bandana, I suggested that we go into the Rite Aid and look for a hat for her.  I’d seen them for 50% off so getting one for her was no big deal.  As we were at the register, the store manager came over to her and told her she was not welcome there and that she knew it.  Without skipping a beat, I politely and boldly informed this manager that whenever she was with me in the store, she would be welcome.  He said nothing and moved on to his next task.

We went back to my car and Mickey asked me if I could give her a ride to a friend’s house a few blocks away.  Somewhat nervously, I agreed.  And that’s when the fun began.  As I drove my car with this 29-year-old homeless cocaine and alcohol addicted woman, she rolled down her window and pointed out to me the homeless friends she saw along the way.  “Chris, can you pull over here?...  Can you pull over there?”  She called out to each person and asked if they wanted a sandwich!  And so here I was, doing ministry to homeless addicts WITH a homeless addict, who, as a reminder, is a child of God created in the image of God just like you and me!!!!

But it gets better…

As we approached B Street and Lehigh Avenue, I saw Autumn in the intersection and asked Mickey if she knew her.  Mickey said she did and proceeded to call out to her from my open passenger window as we crossed through the intersection:  “Autumn, I have sandwiches!”

We pulled over and Autumn wobbled over to that window, looking worse than I’ve ever seen her.  Mickey and I were both concerned for Autumn.  I was wondering if I was too late with my intent to carry some Narcan.  She said she was sick and very tearful with worrying where David was.  She’s not seen him in about 20 minutes.

We gave the remaining tray to Autumn and she accepted it, put it to one side and went back to the intersection with her “hungry” sign.  I took Mickey the one more block she requested and circled back to check on Autumn.  I found her, very unstable on her feet and with no sign of David.  There was an older formal looking man seemingly concerned for her as well.  We both tried to convince her to get help at Episcopal Hospital right up the street.

As we were talking, a Philadelphia Police Officer pulled up and got out of her car.  She opened her trunk and produced a bag of her own clothes that she was giving to Autumn.  And so, there we were, Autumn, the older man, the officer and me.  Three of us were expressing our concern for the fourth who was clearly having a bad night. 

Autumn was very appreciative to receive these clothes.  She went to the corner of the sidewalk, right next to the untouched, foil wrapped sandwiches and peeled open the bag.  The first item she found was the officer’s bright white bra with bright pink padding and she placed it on her head like a summer bonnet.  Our common humanity found its entrance into our interaction when Autumn, the officer and I found a good laugh in that moment.  Somewhere in these few minutes, the older man slipped away unnoticed.

At about this same moment, Mickey reappeared and was looking stylish in her new hat and carrying her leather purse.  She, the officer and I continued our efforts to encourage Autumn to get the help she needed.  The officer asked Autumn if the 10-year-old Autumn would want the current Autumn to be living this way.  There was no answer.

The officer and I had a good conversation about the drug situation and about all the resources there are for people who want help.  She also explained that there are so many resources that it’s easier, in some ways, to live on the streets there because there are so many free services for addicts.  She referenced free haircuts etc. 

I explained to the officer what I was doing, how I was with Urban Hope but doing this current effort on my own.  She seemed pleased by this.  We wrapped up our conversation.  I went over to Autumn, opened one of the sandwiches and all but fed it to her.  She took a bite and seemed to rediscover the good nature of eating food.

At about this moment, David reappeared from “The Tracks” area noticeably agitated.  I encouraged him to eat and he did.  The two of them were talking so I figured it was a good time to leave.

As I approached the Arby’s on Aramingo, I started craving my favorite Beef and Cheddar Sandwich.  I ordered that, fries and a chocolate shake.  As I was sitting in my car, I was somewhat surprised to see Mickey walking down the sidewalk in front of me.  She glanced over, came over to the car and thanked me for the hat.  She made no attempt at anything other than showing appreciation.

And with that, I finished my dinner, drove home and started to write this blog.

[1] I accept all these accounts at face value.

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