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.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Being an outcast in so many social settings when balanced by my ever developing Faith has produced in me a sensitivity and Hope that I try to tap into as I relate to addicted and homeless people who are among the most outcast people of our society.

Every once in a while, I need to be sure that you know something about me so as to make some point about the people who find themselves dealing with the combination of addiction and homelessness. My first mini-biography was in this blog about the Prodigal Daughter.

To really appreciate the significance of what I'm about to tell you, you need to understand that I am a tall skinny white man with a short conservative hairstyle who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia. 

Tall skinny white men with short conservative hairstyles who live in the suburbs of Philadelphia were taught as children if they grew up in those suburbs that we don't go to Kensington.  You just don't and to do so is to put your life in your hands because the people who live there are not tall skinny white men with short conservative hairstyles! 

You also need to know that throughout my life, I've been bullied.  In my youth, classmates called me pea brain, retard, and stupid among other similar horrible names.  In recent years, I've been told by one clergy person[1] that I demonstrate signs of Asperger's Syndrome and therefore do not have the wherewithal to be in youth ministry.[2]  I've been told through the words and actions of other significant people in my life that I'm just not worth it.  In many parts of my life, I've been kicked to the curb.

Being an outcast in so many social settings when balanced by my ever developing Faith has produced in me a sensitivity and Hope that I try to tap into as I relate to addicted and homeless people who are among the most outcast people of our society.

Jump ahead to last night.
                     
Toward the end of my evening of visiting Emerald City and its neighboring community on Frankford Avenue, I was sitting on the sidewalk talking to a man who did not match my personal physical or social description in any way whatsoever.  He and I are polar opposites in many ways.  I'm quite sure that, if he chose to do so, he could turn me into a 200-pound pile of confetti fairly quickly.  But there we sat on this sidewalk in our first ever real conversation. This African American Man with his stocky muscular build and his long flowing dreadlocks wanted me to know something about me. 

"I've been watching you on your last visit[3] and today.  I see how you walk through this cement jungle and sit and listen and talk with all of us.  You walk and sit around trash and needles and don't get hurt.  You're not afraid of anything.  You are a fearless, quiet, ferocious lion.  You are making a major difference here and will be making a major difference in our lives.  God has a plan for you."

I sat there speechless and overwhelmed with gratitude to God for this moment.  I looked around at my surroundings[4] and thought, "There is no other community of people I want to serve at this time in my life."  As we stood, he taught me "the hood" way that men greet each other.  I did it to the best of my ability.  He appreciated my effort but explained that what I was doing was the Puerto-Rican Men's greeting.  The African American greeting has an extra shoulder bump at the end.[5]

I share this with you not to bring any glory to me but rather to share with you this one example of how very wrong we[6] are to assume that someone who is not like us on the surface is not like us in their heart.[7]

Arriving in Emerald City
                        
For my weekday visits, I always try to get there by 4pm.  Thanks to traffic and other factors, I rarely arrive before 4:30 or 4:45.  Yesterday was different and I managed to arrive a bit after 4.  I had told Anna and Pastor Jason that I figured I'd be there at 4:30.  As I pulled into my usual parking place and hopped out of my car, I heard words that made me laugh.  It was an announcement that I'd been told is made in various ways each time I arrive.  This was the first time I heard it.  "Banana Man is here!"[8]

Announcements of particular people arriving in Emerald City are typical.  Lots of people visit this community, especially on weekends.  It's not unusual to hear an announcement such as "Visitors on the Block."  The residents all live on the right side of Emerald Street.  The left sidewalk is kept open for pedestrians.  When children or teens are walking on the opposite side of the street, the announcement is made: "Kids on the block."  All of these announcements are made as a sign of respect for the people who are arriving or walking through.  Activities related to drug use stop or become more discrete in these times.

Conversations preceded by handshakes, fist bumps, and/or hugs are the norm as we distribute bananas and water.  Anna had chocolate candy filled Ziploc bags that she distributed as she conversed with people.  We always run out of bananas and water before the need ends.[9] 

As Pastor Jason, Anna and I spread out across the Community conversing with people: 
  • One conversation was about the power of sin and Jesus' death and resurrection. 
  • Another was about the possibility of getting two different people into a specific detox center. 
  • Another conversation was with a newcomer to this community although not new to the streets.  She was, from a suburban perspective, beautifully dressed in her Sunday best, as she was returning exhausted from her long day of 'dates.'
  • In another conversation, arrangements were being made to help a resident get to an important medical appointment.
  • One woman told us that the next morning,[10] she was going to detox.  Please pray for her.


One conversation really won the prize for most frightening and funny.  As Anna, Pastor Jason and I were walking down the sidewalk on Frankford Avenue right about here, I saw a pair of men's boots sticking out of a tent door.  They were obviously on someone's feet and in a position that made me question if the unknown wearer was safe.  I asked the man standing next to the tent if the man inside was OK - as in not overdosing.  This man quietly explained that they found him dead about 20 minutes earlier and were just waiting for the ambulance.  The man blocked my attempt to access the tent.  I called Anna who came right over.  We managed to get past the standing man and flip open the tent door to find the wearer of the boots sitting up and laughing at the joke they played on us.  I gave them each an extra banana in recognition of their acting abilities.

As conversations were coming to a natural close, I made my way to Urban Hope to attend their "Road to Recovery" meeting.[11]  Before I left for that, however, I agreed to charge a phone in my car for one man while I was in that meeting. 

When I came back to Emerald City to deliver the phone, a wave of sadness hit me when I saw a woman there who I've known since my first visit in July 2017.  It wasn't the "seeing her" part that made me sad.  We had chatted briefly a few hours earlier.  It was the seeing her dressed and preparing to leave for her night of 'dates' that made me sad and deeply concerned for her safety.  For all of the months of interactions that we've had with deep conversations, this was the first time that I'd seen her in that mode.  We only passed each other on the sidewalk.  We each said "Hi 'First Name.'" to the other.  For me, there was an awkwardness at that moment that I can't quite describe.  I sensed in that brief moment that she felt it too.

There is no real conclusion to this blog because as you sit here reading it, each person mentioned, with the possible exception of the one who was planning on going to a detox today, is still there risking health and life all because society cannot provide a REAL way out for them.






[1] "Pastor" "Rector" depending on the setting and denomination
[2] My college degree from Eastern University: I have a double major in Youth Ministry and Psychology
[3] Two days earlier.  It was the first time we had met.
[5] This is reminding me of this song: "We All Bleed The Same.
[6] Suburbanites
[7] This writing makes me wonder which community of people has the bigger heart.
[8] Someone told me later that the occasional phrase is "Pastor Banana is here!"
[9] Hint Hint
[10] The morning that I'm writing this.
[11] I attend these meetings as my way to gain a better understanding of addiction and how Faith plays into recovery.  People sometimes ask if I am a recovering addict or if I've ever had an addiction.  I've not.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

You Can't Live Here Forever but You Can Die Here Forever.

Every once in a while in a conversation with a person I'm chatting with in Emerald City, a series of words that my mind has never thought before will pop out of my mouth with perfect timing.  The first obvious time this happened was on August 13, 2017.  It was a warm Sunday morning when I saw "Lauren" walking to her abandoned house that she was calling home.  Here's what I wrote about that encounter and the words that popped out of my mouth by way of the Holy Spirit.

There have been other moments along the way when just the right words popped out of my mouth at just the right time.  As with my words to Lauren, the statement I made to "Demetrius" this past Sunday startled me.  We were conversing about his situation and his growing frustration with continuing to be there.  I looked at him and said: "You Can't Live Here Forever but You Can Die Here Forever."  Demetrius and I both paused in our conversation for a moment to simultaneously and independently ponder what I just said.  Speaking only for myself here, it was a moment where I startled myself.

"You Can't Live Here Forever but You Can Die Here Forever." 

No one lives in these bridge communities forever.  They move on by way of jail time or entering detox and working on recovery.  Others continue their lifestyle somewhere else within the general area or move way far away.  They don't live there forever.

Many people don't survive their addiction.  Of the three people who I've come to know within Emerald City who I know have died, each represents a 'category' so to speak of how people die as a result of addiction.  


Intellectually, these intelligent men and women who I love in the name of Jesus know of these three broad categories of ways they may die forever.  As I've pointed out in various blogs, there is a war going on within these people who are just like you and me in so many ways.  It is a war that is trying to keep them addicted.  Here are two of those blogs:



 ******************

Dear Friends,

If you are reading this and you are addicted and homeless,  please know that you are loved in the Name of Jesus.  Please reach deep into your soul to find the determination to move toward the healing and wholeness that wants to evict your current troubles and move back into your life.  Please determine to do what it takes to find healing and not live where you are forever.  Please determine to rearrange life so as not to die there forever.  You are not alone in this journey.  You are loved in the Name of Jesus.

Sincerely,

Chris

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday in Emerald City...

Proverbs 22:6 
Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it.


If ever I saw a living example of this verse, it was today: Palm Sunday 2018.  Three ladies who reside in Emerald City with their addiction and their dating to raise funds for that addiction returned 'home' with palm branches in hand after having been in worship at a local church! 

I don't know the personal stories of these ladies.
  • One may have been a star athlete in high school until that sports injury in 11th grade until she was given a Percocet prescription.
  • One may have been raised by her Christian grandparents after having been abused as a younger child where she subliminally learned to numb her emotional pain as she watched her alcoholic father do the same basic thing before he died in front of her when he fell down the steps in a drunken stupor.
  • One may have been well on her way through Med school until an unspeakable tragedy claimed the normalcy of her life.
Regardless of how addiction entered their lives, I'm willing to bet that somewhere in their childhood, there was, for each of them individually, some substantial degree of Christian influence that planted its seed in their souls.  Their current lives, on the surface, includes addiction, homelessness and 'dating' while their soul contains the seeds of knowledge of the living loving God.

It's an outrageous and unexplainable privilege to be in a position such as I am these days to offer some 'water' for those seeds.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Three Catholic Women and Bob

It's 2 a.m. on Friday morning and I cannot sleep. I'm thinking about last night's visit (Thursday, March 22, 2018) to Emerald City. Every once in awhile there is a definite theme to my visit to Emerald City and the other surrounding bridge communities of people. Last night's theme seems to be, of all things: Catholic Women!

I'm going to share these three short stories with you in the order that they happened. 

Natalie


I've learned a lot about addiction and homelessness from Natalie as we have had various discussions and as I have witnessed her life over these months. As I reference at the very top introduction of this blog series, from time to time I change the gender of the person in the story as well as the name so as to help maintain the highest level of privacy. Natalie has actually been written about far more times than what is obvious.  Keep in mind that Natalie is not her real name.

I saw Natalie last night and shared with her the possibility of a wonderful program to help her get her life put back together in the ways that she has told me she wants it to be. Natalie is a brilliant young woman and a deep thinker with a deep Faith that is very buried under her current lifestyle.  Hanging over Natalie's head is a jail sentence for a situation that goes far beyond explanation in this blog. Suffice it to say that Natalie has a big decision to make. She can go to a very specific detox and rehabilitation program or she can go to jail.  The mysterious power of addiction, that none of us on the outside of addiction can possibly understand, has her wondering what to do. 

Please pray for Natalie.

Diane

"Diane" is someone who I have written about a few times in the past referencing her deep Devotion to our Lord. In the early days of her time on the street, she attended Mass every single day as much as she possibly could. She told me last night that she has not been to Mass for quite some time and misses it.

Diane cries as she thinks about doing what she feels she must do to raise funds for her addiction that she despises. Each and every time she references what she needs to do, she tears up and refers to such moments as leaving to go humiliate herself.

This young lady is something of a fine porcelain doll in appearance. She appears as though she could be easily broken. Her lifestyle requires her to be on guard for her own physical safety at all times. She carries a knife and has had to threaten to use it a few times as 'men' have tried to do unspeakable things to her.

About a week ago one of the students from the SUM Program at Urban Hope Church gave me a Christian book called Jesus Calling for me to give to a specific person within Emerald City.  I knew Diane would love this book. I found her about an hour later. When I handed it to her and she saw the title, tears ran down her cheeks. She knows how much her Lord loves her. 
Please pray for Diane.

Emily[1]

The 3rd Catholic woman is a brilliant and fun to chat with poet with a deep and natural smile. "Emily" is by far the most discreet person in Emerald City. The activities of her life that are trying to hold her there are activities that I don't think I've ever actually seen her do. I've told her a time or two that I can't figure out why she's there. Emily reads these blogs which gives me a unique opportunity to sometimes speak directly to her here.

Last night you shared with me something about you and God.  In the course of that conversation, all of the elements of what has become known as the traditional prayer of confession and acceptance of Our Lord were found in our conversation. And so I tell you my good Catholic school friend, I know that our Lord is working on bringing you healing. Our Lord wants the absolute best for you. I am very thankful for that conversation and all of the interactions that we have had. I am looking forward to seeing how our Lord is going to guide you and bring you into something new and rich and exciting.  I'll see you Sunday!

Please pray for Emily.

Bob

And then there is "Bob" (See 'Detox Bound' in this linked blog.)  I've known Bob for months. I have listened as a determination has grown within him to put this lifestyle behind him.

Eight days ago that determination bloomed into action. Later today I will pick him up to leave for a detox facility far from The Temptations of Kensington. It is an absolute privilege to come alongside Bob in his moment of action and to provide whatever support I can as he moves into this new life.  

UPDATE: As of 3/23/18, Bob is no longer a resident of the streets of Kensington.  His new life has begun!

For people who have been on the street in this lifestyle for a length of time, the whole idea of detox and rehab can actually be a frightening thought. Some people say that they don't know how to be normal anymore. I've heard this comment from men and women.

Please pray for Bob.

It has been an incredible privilege to come alongside these three women who often fear for their lives on the streets of Kensington for reasons that are unique to women on these streets. The men of Kensington face other dangers and many of them have shared those concerns with me as well. 

Please pray for all of these people.




[1] When choosing a blog name for this woman, I knew I needed to use the first name of a famous poet.  With a bit of research, I read this about Emily Dickinson and knew I found a great name for this lady poet who I've known for months.  Emily Dickinson: You can't do without her: those leaps of idea between one beautiful, surprising phrase and the next. Mysterious, ferociously original, poignant and evocative: the power of pure thought compressed to diamond.  PS: "Emily," since you read these blogs, if you'd like another blog name, let me know. J

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In Memoriam

I'm Still Very Ready to Go.

As I was getting close to Emerald City this morning, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, I saw "Bob" (See 'Detox Bound' in this linked blog.) with his 'hungry' sign as he stood on the white line at a busy intersection.  We chatted while my light was red.  "I'm still very ready to go to detox." He told me.  Here we are, five days after his declaration of readiness to be done with addiction and he's still on the street begging for money to support his addiction.  If he could have gotten treatment when he was ready, the worst of his detox related discomforts would be over by now.  And his wait is not over.  This nor'easter that is rolling into our area over the next couple of days will delay his detox until at least Thursday or Friday.  That's days 7 and 8 from the day he determined to be done with this lifestyle.  Would we require physical trauma victims to wait a week before receiving requested treatment?             

Do you have my Phone?
         
There are a few residents of Emerald City whose cell phones I will charge while I am visiting.  This morning, while coming back home from my pharmacy where I picked up two units of Narcan before the storm really got rolling, I heard the sound of a cell phone - but not MY cell phone.  I looked down and did not recognize the phone on the floor next to the charger.  "Oh, NO!"  I thought with a bit of a panic knowing that someone would need this before the storm hit.  Snow was already falling. 

"Does this belong to Lady A or Lady B?"  I thought to myself although with their real names.  There's only one man who ever asks me to charge his phone and I knew this was not his phone.  "I must be getting senile."  I thought.  I don't remember Lady A or Lady B being at my car at my last visit on Sunday.  I drove 35 minutes to Emerald City from my home in Delaware County in a rather heavy snowstorm that was predicted not to cause road problems until later in the night.  I stopped at Acme only to find no bananas available for my visit.  I wondered if anyone would call me "Bananaless Man."

Once in Emerald City, as I made my way down the sidewalk under the relative weather protection of this railroad roofed community, I saw the man whose phone I occasionally charge.  Is this your girl friend's phone? I asked.  His girlfriend is Lady A…  Or is his girlfriend Lady B?  It's so hard to know when I don't use actual names in these stories!  He said "No." so I figured it must belong to the other Lady who lives further down the sidewalk in a small tent.  Just then "Casey" walked up to me and asked with a smile "Do you still have my phone?"  "It's your phone, Lady C!" I proclaimed with a smile as I thankfully realized my self-misdiagnosis of senility.  Casey then shared with me some very sad news…

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.

Lady in a Box

With this nor'easter bearing down on us bringing 8 to 12 inches of snow in the next couple of days, I wanted to try to visit as many people who I know as I could.  With a bitterly cold light wind blowing through the Frankford Avenue underpass, I was distributing water and no bananas.  At one point, I was talking to a group of five men and women.  I glanced over to a large cardboard box with something of a window in it.  Two eyes looking alive but lifeless were looking out.  I went over to see if they were ok and if they wanted water.  They hardly reacted.  I said it again and the person seemed to become aware of my presence right outside the window.  She said that she was very cold and did not have a blanket or good enough coat for the upcoming storm.  Fortunately, I had a coat with me but not a really good one for the temperatures.  

As I was walking back to this woman's box home that already had a dusty layer of snow on the cardboard roof, I saw a brand new quilt still in its store plastic zipper bag.  I was about to grab it when I decided that might not be such a good idea.  One person suggested that the "owner" of that spot on the sidewalk might get angry.

I sought a second opinion from Casey who happened to be there having walked from the other community where the above stories transpired.  She agreed that I should not take it from that pile.  "But I can." She said of herself.  She got it from the abandoned pile of other items and handed it to me.  I slipped this quilt through the window to the lady in the box.  Her eyes sparkled for just a brief moment as she saw what was coming her way.  She thanked me and then asked, "Do you have any bananas?" 

My reputation as "Banana Man" follows me everywhere I go in these bridge communities. 

18 Months in Jail or Rehab?

I was just about to leave when I saw yet another woman with whom I'd had an important conversation the week before.  For as much as I would like to share with you the details of what we chatted about, there's no way that I can without breaking confidences and anonymity.  Suffice it to say that there is one other very intelligent woman with whom we both care in this community.  She needs to decide if she would rather do 18 months in a rehab and probably regain relationship with her children at some point during those months or continue to risk life on the streets and wind up in jail for an 18 month sentence that is hanging over her head with no chance of regaining those relationships during those jailed months.  The outrageous strength of addiction, with its mystery ingredient that none of us understand, leaves this woman in an unsure what to do state of mind and unable to bring herself to commit to the obvious answer.

Please Pray for these good people.

Monday, March 19, 2018

'Narcan: 4 Heroin: 0"

"Narcan: 4  Heroin: 0"
"I Met a Neighbor" 
and Two More True Stories 
from Sunday, March 18, 2018


Narcan: 4  Heroin: 0

It was a routine drive back to Emerald City following worship at Urban Hope Church.  I turned on to Emerald Street and drove through the full length of the Conrail underpass with its community of about 60 people to my right.  As I began to pull over into my typical parking place, I saw a cluster of Emerald City's residents gathered around one man lying lifeless on the sidewalk.  "Tierra" was doing CPR complete with mouth to mouth resuscitation.  I grabbed my Narcan knowing full well that it probably would not be needed.[1]  As I approached this group, one man was stating that he could not yet feel a pulse.  Compressions continued as I asked how much Narcan Tierra had already given.  "Two doses." She declared as she continued CPR.

This man lay lifeless just outside the coverage of the bridge itself.  Those who were gathered all had suggestions on what Tierra should do.  She knew better than to listen and she continued CPR until two men, one on each side, announced that they were starting to feel a pulse.  Tierra stopped CPR  and began serious hard rubbing of the man's chest and face.  The entire time, this unknown man's complexion was very blue even with an improving pulse.  A slight hint of breathing began.  By this time, the ambulance was on its way.  We could hear the approaching siren.  The man's color returned to a healthy pink as the ambulance crew got out of their vehicle.  The man jumped to his feet, ran a couple yards, leaned against the wall and started to vomit. 

He sat on the sidewalk and leaned against the cement wall as the ambulance crew members asked him and then really encouraged him to go to the hospital.  They reminded him that Narcan wears off and he could slip back into the same overdose that had already killed him one time.  This previously dead man who was brought back to life by an addicted and homeless lady resident of Emerald City walked to the ambulance.  Life in Emerald City drifted back to its normal Sunday routine of multiple groups bringing dinners.

Since visiting Emerald City, I've seen four overdosing men who needed Narcan.  This was the first person I'd seen who needed CPR.  Of the four I've witnessed, Tierra as been responsible for three of the four saves of the sons of someone.  An hour or so after all this, I saw Tierra, smiled and simply said "You are awesome!"  She smiled and gave me a hug.[2]

I Met a Neighbor

Before I went to Urban Hope for worship on this cool and clear morning, I was walking back to my car after my casual walk up and down the length of Emerald City.  I was visiting with my water and bananas whoever was awake.  I became aware of a human figure sitting on the sidewalk and leaning against the cement wall.  He/She, I could not tell at this point, was focused on doing something in their lap.  I called out quietly and asked if they would like a bottle of water and a banana.  She looked up through the extended hood of her winter coat leaving me barely able to see any facial features.  "Yes.  Thank you. I would." She replied.

As I handed these items to her, I introduced myself.  "Hi, Chris.  I'm "Brianna." "  I told her that I've seen posts on Facebook recently from worried family members looking for a woman by her name.  "They may be looking for me." She responded.  I asked her if she would like me to provide any information "as anonymous as saying "I've seen her and she's ok."  I then encouraged her to reach out to those who may be worried and she said she would.  She freely explained that the efforts in her lap were to scrape any available heroin dust from her previously opened blue packets.  As dust fell from each packet, she gathered it so as to get at least a little bit more medicine for her next dose.  

I continued: "May I ask?  Where's home?"  It was then that I realized that I was talking to an almost-neighbor who grew up in a county next to mine and in a house less than ten miles of my own home. 

"May I ask you what happened that has you out here?" I asked.

"My addiction started the day I witnessed…"  For privacy reasons, let me change her nonchalant, emotionally numb and raw statement to this:  "… I witnessed a horrible crime that no young girl should ever see."  "And you've been numbing your pain ever since?"  "Yes."

We chatted for several minutes as we sat on the sidewalk.  As we did so, she opened up about her life.  

To bring a mental recess to this painful conversation, we also chatted about some common landmarks of which we both knew since we are practically neighbors.  

I gave her a prayer paper and reminded her of God's love.  I'm not sure she was able to absorb that thought…

During this time of deep sharing, I glanced up the street toward my car.  Brothers Andrew and James, dressed in their traditional robes representing their "Order of Saint Francis", were getting out of a car along with several members of a local Roman Catholic Church.  I've been getting to know these people over the past three weeks.  They provide a hearty dinner quality breakfast, conversation, and listening ears, all with lots of Christ's love and no judgment.

No Longer Annoying

As the conversation with Brianna was coming to a natural conclusion, I stood up and saw "Sally" who was walking toward the Franciscan-breakfast-resembling-dinner table.  We had not seen each other in a couple of weeks.  There's always a big hug in these greetings with Sally.  As she waited in line, a conversation between the two of us and Brother James focused on the early days when Sally told me to my face a few times that I was incredibly annoying.  Brother James indicated that he assumed that there were more colorful words used in those early conversations than what we were using today.  We agreed and all of us laughed. 

Detox Bound

Four days after "Bob" determined to put this life of addiction and homelessness behind him, today, he remains on the street as plans are put in place to get him to a specific detox/rehab that may be ideal for him.  Do to all that's involved in this organizational process - and let's not forget nor'easter #4 rolling through on Tuesday, it may be Thursday or Friday (day 7 or 8 after his determined decision) before we can get Bob to the next stage of his new life.  In the mean time, he runs the risk of all the dangers of being on the streets and the use of medicine to keep him well.

Bob is a good man who recognizes where things went wrong in his life, what he was responsible for and what he wasn't.  It's been a privilege to get to know him over these months.  It's also a privilege to walk by his side as he does what needs to be done in this lethargic process of entering detox for healing from addiction.  Would we ask physical trauma victims to wait a week for the care they need?


I share these stories with you anonymously by changing names (and sometimes genders when gender is irrelevant to the point of the story) to protect privacy.  My goal is to show the humanity that exists within the world of addiction combined with homelessness.  It is an honor and privilege to be permitted an inside look and to hear the very personal stories of how these men and women have come to where they are today.  It is also a privilege to love them in the Name of Jesus, to encourage them and to walk with them toward healing and life anew. 




[1] Many addicted people carry Narcan to use on each other when the need arises.
[2] Keep in mind that "Tierra" herself is a resident of Emerald City.  She knows how to save lives and is fully in charge of these desperate moments when they happen.  There is no way to deny that communities such as this, while not official "safe injection sights" are much safer than the alternative of these people living in secluded settings and continuing to use their medicine.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dysfunctional Healing

I've been thinking recently about "dysfunctional healing."  Multiple otherwise unrelated storylines in my life experiences have merged recently in my mind and I've come to a conclusion worth sharing…

If your attempt at healing isn't working, find a new approach!  Seems simple but - NOPE - It's not.

Years ago, I was on the nursing staff of a hospital serving as an orthopedic technician working with patients who had various bone issues.  One young woman was admitted following a motorcycle accident.  She had five breaks in her left (I think) leg.  After three months in the hospital and at least one episode of such outrageous agony that she pleaded with her surgeon to remove her leg, she was transferred to another facility for treatment that the surgeon could not provide or did not know how to provide.  The new medical provision saved her leg and life with all her limbs continues to this day.

This young woman and her family gave this surgeon every reasonable opportunity to fulfill his mission of providing healing within his realm of expertise.  He was not able to do so.  If this young woman had stayed with this surgeon, she would be minus one leg today.

Are you in a healthcare situation of any kind that is not getting better or is getting worse?  Your doctor is your medical service provider.  That person is not your friend.  That person owes you a particular service and if you are not "better" with the care that is being provided to you, it's time to move on to someone who can bring about healing in your life.  It's just that simple.  It's not a case of hurting your doctor's feelings. It's a case of you putting your goal of healing above your interaction or relationship with your doctor.

In the world of addiction, the process of entering detox and rehabilitation is so outrageously dysfunctional in our current procedures that it's way past time for a change.  As I have sat down on the sidewalks of Emerald City and the neighboring bridge communities, I have heard the thoughts of Masters of Social Work, a Pastor, skilled laborers and others with various college degrees.  I've heard the sincere and heartfelt input of men and women who never found high school due to the brokenness of their family settings. 

So many of these people hold within their intelligent minds and broken hearts the solutions to this plague of dysfunctional healing in the world of addiction recovery. It's way past time for all of us who care to sit on the sidewalks, to listen and to act on the recommendations of these men and women.  They are the "customers" in need of service.  Listen to them and find out how to solve the problem of provision of services to the addicted people of our city, state and nation.  Only then can we hope to see them move en mass into a new and reestablished healthy life.

You are the one looking for healing.  It's not up to you to protect the reputation or the feelings of that specific service provider or that system of service provision who is not providing what you need.  You must put yourself first so as to rediscover or discover for the first time in your life the health and healing that you deserve.





Seeing blue hands on a nearly unconscious friend is frightening.

Seeing blue hands on a nearly unconscious friend I've come to love is a frightening moment.[1]
                                                                                                                                                                                      
Barely half an hour before this frightening moment began to unfold, I had been introducing "Casey"  to the seven people from Urban Hope Church who were visiting Emerald City with me.  We were all engaged in conversation about an unusual recent event in Casey's life.  Shortly thereafter, Casey rejoined the community under the bridge, prepared and injected her afternoon medicine.  That's when near tragedy joined her where she was sitting on the sidewalk and where God's intervention allowed me to be with her during it.

Casey's dose of medicine was either too much or made up of what she didn't expect it to be.  Either way, she was overdosing just short of needing Narcan.  Her hands were turning blue.  Her pulse was week but present. [2]  She was breathing on her own, occasionally with moderate stimulation.  It's that final point, breathing on her own, that the community uses to determine the need for Narcan.  Narcan itself, while being a lifesaving agent, does carry certain after affects that can be unpleasant as I've been told by survivors of overdose.  Addicted people will use it on each other as needed but only if REALLY needed. 

Not even ten minutes before this, one of the women in the SUM program at Urban Hope gave me a new copy of "Jesus Calling" to give to someone in the community who I thought would appreciate it.  As this group of seven was pulling away, I hopped in my Uplander and hopped back out.  The perfect person to receive this book came to mind.  It was then, as I was walking down the sidewalk to find that person that I saw Casey and stayed with her - as did members of the community - while she was in the most concerning portions of her situation.  I tucked the book in my pocket and sat with Casey on the sidewalk for half an hour, maybe more.

Seeing fifteen added pounds on a person I've come to love is a joyful thing.

Earlier in my visit, I saw for the first time in probably forty days a woman who had been incarcerated for most of that time.  Her eyes sparkled with renewed life and her cheeks were filled out.  "I'm clean and I've gained fifteen pounds!" she said as she reached out for a hug with a renewed joyful and natural smile. 

This is not the first time that I've seen renewed life in a person returning to Emerald City after time in jail.  My biggest frustration with seeing them post-incarceration is that I'm seeing them there, in Emerald City or their other bridge community of choice.  Why can't there be a guaranteed place filled with dignity and respect for jail-detoxed people to go that will foster their further cleansing and rehabilitation?[3]

Seeing absolute determination to enter detox in one I've come to love is a joyful moment.
                       
Recovery from addiction doesn't just happen.  It's not like physical trauma where something horrible happens and the victim goes to the emergency room and begins immediate treatment.  Recovery from addiction begins when the addicted person decides within them self that it is time to begin the process.  Once that point has come, the person will probably have to stay in their homeless community for a few days while a bed can be found, insurance can be approved and transportation can be arranged. 

Between the moment that the person decides to begin recovery and the time they get to that available bed, they must continue to consume their medicine.  That means they will continue to stand in streets with their 'hungry' sign or walk the streets waiting for a 'date.'  Sadly, for many, during that delay of days, determination withers like a flower that's not been watered and the person stays in their lifestyle maybe to be re-determined some time later.  Between determination and re-determination, hunger signs and dates and the very real potential for overdose continues to be a part of everyday life. 

For at least four months, "Bob" has been showing determination growing within his spirit as evidenced by our lengthy conversations.  Yesterday, Bob's determination bloomed into action.  We talked about one option for detox and recovery that really appealed to him.  Anna is working on the details.  If all goes as we pray it will, Bob will be leaving the streets of Kensington and moving into his new life early next week.  Between now and then, he continues life on the street with his 'hungry' sign and his medicine.

Jesus Calling       

As all of this was calming down, I drove around the block to the bridge community on Frankford Avenue to visit everyone and to find "Diane", the one person who I knew would really appreciate this book.  While I had a nice visit with folks, she was not there.  Diane is a charming devout Roman Catholic who loves our LORD, is fully addicted, who supports that addiction through 'dating' and who has very openly shared with me the conflict within her soul concerning those opposing aspects of her life. 

I decided to drive around the block back to Emerald City to see if I could find Diane.  "Dear LORD, if she's the one who should have this book, please help me find her."  The light was green on Lehigh Avenue as I rounded the bend to turn onto Emerald.  Diane was walking on the sidewalk of Emerald and turning onto Lehigh.  We caught each other's eye.  I pulled over to the side of the road as I motioned to her to come over for a moment.  I met her on the street behind my Uplander.  We hugged each other as I told her I had a book for her from a woman at Urban Hope.  She saw the title: Jesus Calling, and began to cry.  She said "Oh, Thank you so much, Chris."  She apologized for needing to leave so quickly, turned and continued to walk down the sidewalk with a man. 

Through Relational Ministry yesterday, I had the privilege to sit with a woman in serious medical trouble and realize another woman's healthy weight gain and appreciate the changes in her overall demeanor.  I had the privilege of guiding a man into a possible detox experience and hand a sister in Christ a Christian book that she accepted with tears as she departed with a man. 

I'm Loving This! 





[1] When I mention loving these people, I'm not being weird or inappropriate.  I simply mean this: I've come to love all of these people in the Name of Jesus.
[2] When I went to check her pulse at her wrist, I had to move to one side, the bracelet that I gave her the week before.  On that bracelet is the phone number for 1-800-RECOVERY  which is the number for Recovery Centers of America.  These words are also on it: "This bracelet could save a life."
[3] Addiction is a crossbreed of an illness that sends people to do time behind bars.  It's a rare form of illness that causes people to commit crimes to financially support it that lands them in jail.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

First Names in the Bridge Communities of Emerald City and Frankford Avenue...

Today's visit to the good people of Kensington's addicted and homeless communities quickly
developed "Names" as the common theme that ran throughout my time under these old bridges.

But first, I stopped at the Rite Aid drug store on Aramingo to buy batteries for a person in Emerald City.  As I hopped back in my car, I saw…  Oh, good grief…  How do I write a blog about names when I don't use real names in these blogs?  In fact… Some of these good people don't use their own real names on the street.  This may be a challenging story to convey to you.

As I hopped back in my car, I saw a man who I've known for months.  He goes by a name that's more of a C.B. Radio handle than a name.  It's a handle that conveys to all who hear it the total destruction of belief in himself as the man with the advanced college degree that I've been told he has.  I'll call him "Tom the Tramp" here.  He climbed into my front seat saying "Thank you, Chris.  I'm not sure I could have made the walk today."  

As I drove to Emerald City, just a few blocks away, he shared with me the chance encounter that he had with a relative who had not seen him in a long time and was shocked to see him in his state of current physical health.  He apologized to her and told me of the pain in his heart for hurting her so much by being such a shocking "failure."  Somewhere in that description, this heroin battered former professional slipped away from his C.B. Radio handle and referred to himself with his given name - a name given to him by his parents who cry for his absence and fear for his life.

We arrived in Emerald City where I met up with Luke, a man who visits with me on Tuesdays.  As we visited with the men and women of this railroad roofed community, I introduced Luke to those whose names I had firmly in my head.  Being a cold afternoon with a bitter wind, most conversations were short. 

Names…  

As we walked down the street on Emerald, to be honest, I was sort of happy with myself at how freely people's names rolled off my lips as I greeted them and introduced them to Luke.  One man heard my voice from inside his tent before I knew he was there.  With his rather deep and booming voice, He called out "Chris…!"  I called out…  Um… "First Name….!"  And our conversation continued from there as we closed in on where each other was located. 

Traveling with Luke further down the sidewalk, he met First Name, First Name, First Name, and First Name.  First Name (the third one on that list of four people), is the one with whom I shared TV interview time last December.  

Still further down this ten-foot wide sidewalk,  one woman quietly said: "Chris, is that you?"  She was barely audible above the noise of the community and cars on the street, but my ears know the tone and texture of her voice.  "First Name, are you in there?" (referring to the small tent into which I chatted with her during my last visit).  "I'm here." She said as she opened the flap of her tent just enough to say "Hi." and so I could introduce her to Luke.  "First Name, this is Luke.  Luke, this is First Name."  "It's nice to meet you, Luke."  "It's nice to meet you, First Name."  I gave her the batteries that I'd promised. 

A few minutes later, Luke and I left Emerald City and drove around the corner by way of Sterner Street (That's the street's actual name.) to the equivalent bridge community on Frankford Avenue.  Earlier in the day, I had been Facebook contacted by a person looking for a young couple by the name of First Name and First Name.  Luke introduced himself to a man as I was navigating my cooler of water around some stuff in the path.  That man introduced himself to Luke.  "Hi, Luke. I'm First Name."  "Wait…  You're First Name."  I said.  "I was contacted today by a person looking for a man by the name of First Name and his lady friend named First Name."  I showed them the Facebook message and they gave me permission to let their friend know that all is as well as well can be with life on the streets.

Walking further down this sidewalk on Frankford, I saw a nose and a pair of eyes peeking out from under a quilt lying on a mattress.  "Hi, First Name."  I said.  "This is Luke."  Luke properly followed up with "Hi, First Name.  It's nice to meet you."  First Name said, "It's nice to meet you Luke."  We chatted for a bit before moving further down the sidewalk where Luke and I met First Name, a very petite young lady with an unusual first name.  As we chatted with her, she shared with us the national heritage that gives her the name "First Name - Middle Name."  "But don't tell anyone my real name.  I just go by 'First Name.'" she concluded.

Some people on the streets do use their actual first name.  Others use a derivative of their name or something that reflects some aspect of their personality or something totally unrelated.  When someone shares with me their actual given first name, I consider it a privilege granted to me out of the relationship that has developed between us over the months.   

Shortly after Luke left, I was back in Emerald City.  While I spoke with many men and women, one moment among many stood out.  A group of six or so people was sitting sort of in a circle on the sidewalk in various stages of preparing their afternoon medicine.  I quickly realized that I have significant conversational relationships with almost all of them.  As they were sitting on the cold cement sidewalk, I knelt down next to First Name, First Name, First Name, First Name, First Name, and one person whose first name I didn't know as heroin packets were being prepared for injection.  One of these people, a college-educated daughter of parents who love her, paused in her preparation as we chatted about a recent event in her life and her plans for detox and rehab. 

First Names in Emerald City and on Frankford Avenue...