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.
Sunday, August 19, 2018
As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I had been asked by a lady resident of Emerald City to deliver a case of bananas so she could sell them on a street corner rather than selling herself on that same corner up to 15 times per day seven days each week so as to support her life and medicine needs.
I couldn't find her at first and I was starting to wonder if I would. A guy friend of hers told me that she was in her tent. I had called into her a few times with no response. I now knew why. She was very dope sick and refusing to date for income to buy her needed medicine.
With her friend's help, I found her dope sick and on her mattress inside her tent. I told her that I had her requested case of bananas. She was very thankful. I pulled my car up close to her tent. Even with her growing dope sickness, she gathered her strength and insisted on carrying the 40-pound case of bananas into her canvas home. We said goodbye with a hug and I went on my way to my home.
Four blocks away, with rain starting to fall, I saw again an inspirational woman standing on the dashed line on Lehigh Avenue selling nearly frozen bottled waters. With the light being red, I was able to tell her about how she's been observed by the women of Emerald City and how they are starting to think that maybe they too can sell a product rather than sell themselves.
She smiled a smile the ingredients of which I cannot yet explain as I looked at her and said:
"You are inspiring the ladies of Emerald City to know that they do not have to date to support their needs. I too have been inspired by your determination to support your family with dignity and honor and respect and love.
You are a role model!"
at 8/19/2018 06:47:00 PM
Saturday, August 18, 2018
About three weeks ago, two seemingly unrelated happenings were, umm, happening simultaneously a few blocks apart. When the thought of these two events merged in one lady's mind, she began to see that day when she can put dating in her past.
For the past three weeks, a woman who is not addicted but is struggling with life has been selling bottles of very cold water from a cooler at the corner of Lehigh and Aramingo. A woman selling products at a street corner is an unusual site. I stopped one day to congratulate her on her efforts. Our conversation wondered into acknowledging that she has that most unfortunate option of dating.
"No. That's not one of my options. I have a family to feed and will do so with as much dignity as I can."
My friend Beth suggested to me that I investigate buying bananas from Produce Junction on Chichester Avenue on my way into the city. Their prices are fantastic! I can get 40 pounds for $11.50. I shared the ideas with several men and women in Emerald City that if they could reimburse me that amount, they could sell the case at street corners and earn maybe $40.00.
One of the women of Emerald City pulled me aside at my last visit and said this:
"I've seen that woman selling waters and you've told us about the possibility of earning money with banana sales. I'd like you to pick up a case of bananas. I'm going to buy a case of Gatorade. I'm going to go into business as soon as you can bring me the bananas. I'll pay you back. I'm sick of dating! I'm sick of doing that disgusting stuff with up to 15 'men' a day just to survive and buy my medicine. I'm going to sell these bananas and Gatorade at a good corner that I've identified and stop selling myself. All I need is the bananas, the Gatorade and a cooler."
Tomorrow morning, as I make my way down Chichester Avenue, I'm picking up donated water and two cases of bananas. One of those cases will be given to this Emerald City resident who wants to stop selling herself for the sake of her medicine.
I do need to find a wheeled cooler for her efforts. It needs to be large and this style with the handle in the middle so as to allow hauling of a box or case of product on the top.
If you would like to buy this cooler for this lady, please click here to see a growing list of other items that I need from Amazon.
at 8/18/2018 10:58:00 PM
Thursday, August 16, 2018
The good people who I visit are asking me for song sheets that I started distributing a few weeks ago.
Maybe three weeks ago, I distributed forty copies of one song's lyrics to those who I sensed would welcome it. One of those copies was welcomed by Emily, a poet who has lived in these bridge communities longer than I have visited. Emily has experienced tremendous losses in recent years. These sadnesses and other ingredients that make up her life's path thus far led her to addiction, residing under a bridge and other activities that fill the days of women on the streets.
When Emily read the following lyrics, she looked up the song on YouTube. Later this afternoon, I will be sitting with Emily in a prison visiting room as she is awaiting her court date next week.
Here is the song sheet and link to the song that touched Emily's heart:
This is largely a self funded ministry. I'm running dangerously low on funds to keep going and pay my own bills. Please consider helping me with the expenses related to this relational ministry. To learn more about giving, please click here.
 This was the first time of which I am aware that with her own initiative she reached out to take a look at something related to our great Christian Faith.
at 8/16/2018 11:00:00 AM
Saturday, August 11, 2018
It had been several months since Pastor Sam and I had sat down and chatted about the stuff of our lives. From our earthly perspective, a spontaneous moment opened and we talked superficially and ridiculously deeply with each other for the next five hours as we sat in his efficiency style apartment. I kicked off my shoes and relaxed in the comfort of his home. During that time, a few neighbors stopped in. Some of these neighbors stopped in to see what they could get from us while others gave of themselves from deep inside their hearts.
Pastor Sam was pleased to show me around his one-room apartment:
"Over here, I keep my food and extra food for neighbors who may stop in and need a bit to hold them over. I don't have a lot of extra but I make it available. Here, I have clothes: extra shirts and pants, more than what I need and available to anyone who may need some. I keep it washed and folded. As you can see and feel, this apartment is damp and dusty. I wash all of these clothes every week, even if they have not left the shelves. No one ever takes more than they need for the moment. My neighbors are wonderful that way, even in the midst of their situation."
Just then, a man came by to do some sweeping of the public areas of this most unusually designed apartment complex. Pastor Sam, told him that the sweeping could wait until the next day since he and I were in a rather deep and personal conversation. The man understood. Pastor Sam went on to tell me his story of how God became so very real in his life and how, through an incredible path of events, he was ordained as a pastor in his denomination.
At about this point, a lady neighbor stopped by to visit. Pastor Sam shared with me and her the depth of a recent conversation between the two of them that had him, a pastor in his 50s "under spiritual arrest by God into total silence" as this lady 20 years his junior quoted and expanded on scripture to him for a couple hours the night before.
Before our three-way conversation closed, we sat together on Pastor Sam's floor and prayed with and for each other and our friends.
There is so much more that I'd like to share with you about this evening that lasted about 5 hours in Pastor Sam's apartment but I can't because of the personal and awesome nature of what transpired between the people mentioned and others who live in neighboring apartments.
And now a confession…
The "neighboring apartments" mentioned above are tents occupied by men and women who are misunderstood, marginalized and despised by so many people on the outside of addiction and homelessness. Pastor Sam's "apartment" is this piece of sidewalk between columns 2 and 3 on the south end of the Conrail overpass over Frankford Avenue at its intersection with Lehigh Avenue. It was in this location on this night where friends talked and laughed and cried, shared snacks and sodas and hugged and prayed in all the exact same comfort as in any living room in any house in America.
at 8/11/2018 09:30:00 PM
Thursday, August 9, 2018
"I am NOT a Whore!"
"I am NOT a Whore!"
"I am NOT a Whore!"
These words rang out in anger and through tears, shouted by one of the ladies of Emerald City at the person who had just called her such.
I was too far away to know the details of what was going on. My immediate response to the men and women around me was "Oh how I hate that 'W' word!"
One man asked… "That 'W' word?"
"Yes. That 'W' word that sounds like it should be an 'H' word. For that matter, I hate the 'P' word and the 'H' word that really is an 'H' word!"
One lady who overheard my rant actually laughed at me as I put those words in the same realm of offensive words as the dreaded 'F' bomb.
I continued… "No lady here is a W, P or H… Everyone here is a human being worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love."
"Oh, I bet you say that to all the women." One lady chimed in with a grin.
"Actually, I do because it's true. It's true of the women. It's true of the men. Everyone here is a human being worthy of the highest dignity, honor, respect, and love."
A couple of people simply said, "Thank you."
A couple others seemed to have just been exposed to a new thought on the same plain as "The world might be round."
You are not a 'w' and the world is round!
at 8/09/2018 12:23:00 AM
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Melanie has known addiction and homelessness for at least two of her 3.5 decades on this earth. She's known being parentless due to addiction on their part for longer than that.
The following true story picks up within a day of where my novel styled blog left off…
Melanie was arrested and now sits in a local prison. The specifics of her arrest are irrelevant to this true story.
I visited Melanie today. As I write this account, I will be alternating between the emotional father/daughter relationship that is developing between us and the reality of our factual relationship.
In reality, I've never known Melanie free of the demon of addiction. I've never known her real and somewhat dimpled smile nor the glow of life beaming from her deep blue eyes framed by a head of red hair. These new to me aspects of Melanie were evident as I saw her sitting in the prison visiting room and as I struggled to open the second of two security doors that separate residents from the demon living in the outside world.
As I opened the door and went through one last security checkpoint, Melanie spontaneously called out, "Thank you for visiting, Dad! It means so much to know that somebody cares."
For the next 30 minutes, we small talked and Faith talked and movie talked. We talked about family and how she has none of her factual own. We talked about court and her determination to be done with her former ways. We talked about the power of prayer and the Bible and other worthwhile books. We talked about that day, perhaps two or three months away when I will pick her up late at night on her day of discharge.
So where is the miracle in this story?
The miracle is in the breaking of the stronghold of the power of the demon. Where the medical establishment was powerless or unwilling to step in to solve this opioid issue of its own making, the legal establishment stepped in to save the day and, perhaps, set Melanie on an all-new course in life. Sadly, this leaves Melanie and thousands upon thousands in her similar situation with a criminal record where an extended medical record would have been much more appropriate.
Miracle Number 2
Here's what I texted to close friends shortly after I learned of Miracle Number 2:
As I text this I am sitting in my car with the steeple of old Christ Church to my left in a parking lot having just visited another of the young ladies of the streets of Kensington who is a deeply committed Christian and was doing great in her walk away from opioids until a medical procedure thrust her back into addiction.
She was hospitalized just a few days ago with a severe infection that had the potential to claim her life.
Yesterday, the medical team did some further studying to determine how they were going to treat this potentially fatal condition.
The entire infection was completely gone!
The doctor stated to this dear young lady formerly of the streets that this is an absolute bona-fide genuine miracle and can have no other explanation attached to it.
Today, I have had the privilege of visiting a Christian in prison and visiting a Christian in a hospital. Both are looking at how God intervened in their lives.
I cannot believe that I've had the privilege of experiencing such Earthbound Glory...
at 8/08/2018 12:24:00 AM
Sunday, August 5, 2018
What I am about to share, I do so with no sense of inflated ego nor pride nor any other such viewpoint in this life. I share this with you out of a pure and humbled heart that our God and LORD has allowed me to come alongside men and women, addicted, homeless, relatives thereof and dealers thereto and been able to share with them to the best of my feeble ability the simple and profound fact of facts that the King of the universe adores them for being exactly who they are: His beloved children!
Before I continue on much farther, I need to explain to you that today's activities are bathed in the light of an apparent stalker/rapist/murderer who has claimed the lives of at least two women on the street and nearly claimed the life by severe choking of one woman I've written about extensively in this blog series. These are the street facts of the situation. The factual reality facts are possibly different but basically the same. The street understood facts are the facts that set the lighting and tone for what plays out on this real life stage for the men and women of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Community (not to mention the other pockets of such communities that I've not yet visited nor mentioned in this blog series).
Having been visiting these communities for over a year now, previously distant men and women have begun opening their lives to me in ways I would never have imagined months ago. As you read that last sentence, you're probably assuming that I mean the addicted and homeless people of these communities. Yes. That's what I mean. Much to my surprise, I also mean, albeit to a lesser extent, the men and women who run the drug distribution process in these communities.
It's one thing to hear a man or woman describe their pain and why they consume what they consume. It's another thing altogether to hear a man or woman explain why they distribute what they distribute and as they acknowledge their recognized reality that they play a part in burying your sons and daughters. And yet, there I am, in some roll I never would have guessed ten years ago when I moved back here that I would be a listening ear focusing on the anguish of the addicted and their dealers.
Now hold those thoughts as I switch gears and share with you a very tiny segment of today's events…
Thanks to Beth, a friend here in Delaware County, I've discovered that I can buy a case of bananas (60 - 70 total) for $11.50 at Produce Junction on Chichester Avenue in -Umm - Chichester, Pa. (That's a great place to put such an aptly named avenue!). That's ridiculously cheap! I've purchased three cases so far for my typical distribution.
It got me thinking…
If I can buy these bananas for such a great price, can I resell these bananas at my cost to a willing lady who's at increased risk of assault, rape and murder and she, in turn, sell them to passersby on a street corner, earn $50.00 profit and not need to go out on one or two dates, which may unintendedly be with the current Kensington Stalker?
I figured it was worth the $11.50 gamble. I bought one more case than what I needed and presented the idea to several ladies throughout this day. I first thought of the woman who suffers from a non-addiction related medical issue that does not even permit her to date due to extreme pain that ravages her body. When I found her, she was desperately dope sick and more concerned with messing her pants than selling bananas so as to raise funds for the purchase of her medicine.
"Dear LORD, please show me who these bananas should be entrusted to." I prayed.
Shortly after that prayer, the most petite resident of Emerald and Frankford meandered past me wearing a street length long flowing black elegant summer gown. She was carrying her all too typical rather oversized purse in preparation for her long night of back to back probably scheduled dates. I'd seen her maybe one other time.
This blog is getting a bit long so allow me to summarize…
"Hi, most petite daughter of your heartbroken parents and frightened family. Would you like to sell a case of bananas and cancel a couple of those dates tonight?"
"Sounds great! If I can't sell them, I'll make smoothies. Either way, I'll be giving you $11.50 on Tuesday."
Why did this sound slightly reminiscent of days in my childhood long since past?
I brought the case of bananas to her tent that she shared with a man who is or was involved in some aspect of the drug distribution process. I explained to him what the idea was for this case. He liked the idea and thanked me for caring about the dangers the ladies of the community face on an hourly basis each and every day.
Shortly thereafter, I said my goodbyes and made my way home. As I was leaving, she was still trying to find a vein for her medicine.
Will she sell or smoothie those bananas? If she makes a profit and avoids one or two dates, will they have been dates with the current Kensington Stalker who would have raped and/or killed her?
Only Heaven knows…
I'm just thankful to our LORD that I've been able to be a part of this journey.
And, by the way, you may have saved a life tonight so I need to say:
Thank you, Beth.
at 8/05/2018 10:15:00 PM
Saturday, August 4, 2018
These four sides of two cards drawn last Sunday by a resident of Emerald City serve as a powerful statement of Faith: a spiritual life preserver holding strong by a thread within a sea of relapsed addiction, homelessness and dating.
Imagine if you can and I'm not sure I could if I had not witnessed these events in front of me over three days of visit in a period of five days…
Day One: She shared with me her firm and growing Faith in our Savior in the midst of her medically induced opioid relapse… She expressed a sincere desire to attend church with me the following Sunday.
Day Two: She was waiting for me when I arrived to look for her on Sunday and she gladly attended Urban Hope with me.
Day Three: She asked to sit in my car's passenger seat so we could talk privately. She gives me these cards while using the passenger side makeup mirror to apply her makeup for her afternoon of dates that she despises. She sees no choice but to 'date' as her only means of financial provision to support an addiction that was handed back to her by an incompetent medical provider.
In the absence of any other source of funding for her medicine which she has nearly no choice but to consume, I have no way to tell her to stop dating or change her plans for the night.
I remind her of her Faith and she simply says "That's all I have left."
2 Corinthians 12:9 New International Version (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
at 8/04/2018 09:13:00 PM
Friday, August 3, 2018
Two Stories: One of Heartbreak The Other of Inspiration
As I visited Emerald City last night, among many activities of the evening, the call went out among the community that there was an overdose with CPR in progress up one of the side streets. Narcan is in full supply in Emerald City. One container was grabbed by its owner as he ran up the street a short block away.
When I arrived at the side street, a young woman who I barely knew said with obvious and yet humble pride that she, along with others, saved this guy and he had already run away.
I asked her if she'd like some water and a banana after saving the life of this man. She thanked me. As the conversation continued, she reminded me of her name and lost college status as a 4th-year med student specializing in neurosurgery prior to the demon of addiction knocking on her door. As she shared this, I recalled the same conversation with her months earlier. I asked her if in her studies she had heard the name, Dr. Eugene Spitz. She said, "Of course!"
I shared with her how Dr. Spitz's two daughters had been in my high school with me years ago and how we routinely went swimming in his home's pool., She thought that was cool but was more thoughtful, and rightly so, with her realization that tonight's save of this young man was her 12th for 2018.
As I reflect back on this conversation, there seemed to be a sense of reawakening in this woman's spirit as she connected in her mind the lifesaving that she had just done with the life saving on a much larger scale that she would have done as a neurosurgeon if the demon had not come knocking.
Shortly thereafter, I was at a recovery group dinner at Urban Hope celebrating the 7th anniversary of this group. Among the many activities of the evening, there were brief testimonies from various men and women. One of the men shared that, following many years of incarceration during which time he earned two associates degrees he has been living in transitional housing for the past couple of years.
In about 3 weeks, he will be moving to his own apartment for the first time in many years (decades?) so as to begin at least two years of Biblical studies thanks to a full scholarship from Eastern University! I graduated from Eastern in 1990.
Within the course of a couple hours last night,
- I conversed with a demon derailed would-have-been-neurosurgeon who knew of Dr. Spitz, world-renowned neurosurgeon, my sixth-grade class mate's Dad and founding board member of the high school from which I graduated. She lives addicted and homeless under a bridge and bears all the burdens of a woman in such a situation.
- I was inspired by the testimony of a formerly incarcerated man who will eventually graduate from Eastern University and do so with a full scholarship, the college from which I graduated.
Summing Up my Summary:
When you take time to get to know someone, anyone, you'll be amazed at how much you have in common.
 Whenever I think of Dr. Spitz's one daughter who was in 6th grade with me, I laugh at the comment she made one day as we ate lunch together. "Chris, you are a boy so that makes you my boyfriend but I don't love you."
at 8/03/2018 11:07:00 PM