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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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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.

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