Please Know...

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.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Opposite of Addiction...

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety. 
  The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

This is the closing statement in this TED Talk.  Here are a couple of real-life examples:

"Sally" and her Mom…  I've known Sally for my entire time of visiting the streets of Kensington.  She's an awesome woman who knows her mind.  From time to time, she's even given me a piece of her mind but that's a topic for another day…  J  

Sally was one of the first people I met when I started visiting Emerald City almost three years ago.  She was there on that dangerously cold winter morning this past January when the police evicted everyone from the connection of their community under that railroad bridge nicknamed "Emerald City".

For most - if not all - of these three years, Sally had a weekly lunch date with her Mom.  Mom would come to the area and Sally would meet her.  They would spend some time together.  From time to time, they would even go on an extended day out.  Mom showed respect for Sally and her decisions.  For as tough as it was for Sally and her Mom, they maintained connection one with the other.  Sally is finding her way away from what was to what can be mostly because of the positive connection that was maintained between her and her Mom. 

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  
 The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

"Emmy" and her Mom…  Emmy has been on the streets of Kensington for a couple of years.  I've known her most of that time.  She recently had her 23rd birthday - on the street with no family or Non-street friends around to celebrate.  When I saw her yesterday, I gave her a birthday card.  Her tough exterior melted a bit as she took it from me.  She carried that card down Kensington Avenue.  I saw from a distance her opening it. 

An hour or so later, Emmy asked me if she could call home to talk to her Mom.  I said "Of course!"  She sat in the passenger side of my car.  Using my phone, she called her Mom.  One of the first sentences Emmy said with tucked in tears of attempted street toughness was "It's so nice to hear your voice Mom!"

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  
 The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

When people who suffer from Substance Use Disorder are ostracized to the streets, connection with family, friends and the positive aspects of society have been broken or severely strained.

When the city breaks up "tent communities" because they don't look nice and are believed to be a danger to the established residents of the area, the connection among members of that tent community is broken or severely strained.  Connection between these former tent community residents and outreach groups become strained as well since outreach folks struggle to find those former residents.

When police walk along the public sidewalks evicting Substance Use Disorder patients from sidewalks that have become makeshift, grassroots hospital wards, they are breaking what little connection exists between these patients and the established preexisting community. 

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

In all that we do in our efforts to reduce the suffering and death related to addiction and homelessness, WE MUST find new ways and strengthen existing positive ways to build connections with these fine men and women! 

We must find a way to create a culture of connection because:

"The Opposite of Addiction IS NOT Sobriety.  
 The Opposite of Addiction IS Connection."

Monday, June 10, 2019

I'm Just Not Ready!

Any one of us who has some annoyance about our own bodies, an annoyance that will only advance with time, understands the idea of "not being ready" to deal with the issue.  Your issue may be an advancing bothersome knee or hip.  It may be that pain in your side that won't totally go away - but you can live with it for now. 

Eventually, when the pain associated with the situation gets severe enough, you will be at the point where you decide that you are ready to deal with it.  You go to your doctor and you begin the process of healing from it.  You go through the minor or major discomforts of the treatments and come out the other side of the experience saying "I wish I'd gotten that fixed a long time ago!"

To one degree or another, we all do that…

Patients dealing with Substance Use Disorder are no different than us.  Your issue may be your hip.  His issue is Substance Use Disorder.  Your issue may be that lumbar disk.   Her issue is Substance Use Disorder.  We all play this game with ourselves of not doing something about our health situation until it 'hurts enough.' 

Non-Substance Use Disorder patients and Substance Use Disorder patients all do this because we are all human beings who need to 'hurt enough' to do something about our unwanted situation.

Each person's measurement of what "hurts enough" to take action on the situation varies.  Different people can tolerate higher levels of pain.  The "The Pain Scale Chart" serves patients and clinical service providers nicely because it takes into account an individual's ability to tolerate their personal pain. 
Here's a look at that chart:

Substance Use Disorder patients who call that piece of sidewalk on Kensington Avenue 'home' are equally human with Non-Substance Use Disorder persons who live in big fancy homes.[1]   Their tendency to wait until their situation 'hurts enough' is no different than ours.  Except for those who have overdosed and died, when they are 'ready' they seek help.[2]

Almost every Substance Use Disorder patient on the streets of Kensington is reliant on Medicaid to cover their medical expenses.  There is the rare but occasional exception of the young person who is still on their parent's insurance or the military service veteran who does not realize they have veteran's benefits.

In this "Simple Mental Health Pain Scale" that can be found at this website, at level 10, the patient is urged to "contact a crisis line immediately."  

Substance Use Disorder patients of the streets of Kensington are required to go to the local crisis center for services once they've decided they are 'ready.' 

When the Medicaid reliant Substance Use Disorder patient reaches that point where they are 'ready' for treatment, the system, as it stands now, does not meet them in their present state of readiness - a mental place for this person that must be met immediately so as not to lose this life saving 'window of opportunity.' 

Here's what I wrote last December as I compared the Medicaid system of health care for Substance Use Disorder patients with the private insurance side of the issue.  "George and John" are fictitious brothers.  Their experiences are all experiences that I have had with real people during the past 2.5 years.


On the Day that George and John were born, their parents, in a fog of addiction, gave them up at local safe drop off stations, George on one day at one such station and John on another day at another station.  As fraternal twins, they looked nothing alike.  They bore no identical traits other than the propensity for addiction that lingered quietly within them.

George and John were placed in loving homes through adoption.

George's home was one of considerable financial wellbeing, mostly through his parent's many real estate holdings.  George went to the finest schools as a child.  In 2008, finances dried up for George's family and times got tough.  His Dad and Mom moved their family of three into the basement of a family friend who had a dark side.  This friend introduced George to aspects of life that no child should ever know.  The resulting pain and confusion within the soul of George awakened the inner demon of addiction.  Heroin became his only and best friend.

John was adopted into a hard-working family.  Mom and Dad were both tradespeople.  Dad was a plumber and Mom an electrician.  Mom and Dad loved athletics and as John grew, they encouraged him to find a sport that he enjoyed.  John was awesome at high school baseball.  On one fateful day, he slid into third base and shattered his leg.  Surgeries lasted for months.  During this time, to manage his pain, John was put on opioid-based pain relievers which handled his pain and awakened his inner demon of addiction.  In time, heroin became his only and best friend

Twins separated at or near birth and who know nothing of each other have been shown to often do the same things throughout their separated lives.  George and John are examples of this phenomenon.

On the same exact day toward the end of 2018, George and John made the same decision...

George woke up in his tent in a "homeless people's encampment."  He glanced over at his tent mate, a young lady in her twenties.  She lay there blue and lifeless with a noticeable facial injury, the result of a date gone bad just hours before.  This, combined with other recent street deaths of friends by overdose, pneumonia and one out of control car and his own multiple overdoses saved by Narcan in recent months watered a seed of rational thinking that had laid dormant for years within George.

John lived with his addiction and his family and kept distant from them but not from it in his basement apartment.  He began to realize that life was not going in the direction it needed to go.  One night, upstairs, around his parent's kitchen table, John confessed his sadness and self-loathing to his Mom and Dad.  The three of them through a lot of tears and a tiny bit of yelling decided on a course of action to address John's addiction.  With private insurance cards in hand, phone calls and arrangements were made for John to enter detox and rehab.  Later that same day, John injected one last dose of his needed medicine, was picked up by a driver from his rehab home of the next 28 to 30 days, arrived and was met by men and women who treated him with the dignity and respect deserving of any human being.

From the moment John entered the building and on his walk to the admissions office and then to his detox room, John walked through tastefully decorated halls lined with portraits of famous strugglers of addiction and inspiring quotes from people throughout the decades.  He could not help but notice the brightly lit lounge areas with their electronic fireplaces and large screen TVs.  Under his shoed feet, every step of the way, he walked on well maintained simulated hardwood floors.

George knew what he needed to do to enter detox.  For the next few days, as he continued his normal routine of living in a tent and 'flying a sign' at street corners that read "Hungry," George connived to survive and hustled to pull together an extra $60.00 so as to buy extra dope to hide on him during his expected one day wait in the Crisis Center several blocks away.

With enough money in hand, he bought the extra dope, and then walked to the Crisis Center, pushed the button on the brick wall next to the secured ill painted metal door with the wire laced security window located in the middle of its upper half.  After a couple pushes of the button, a security guard opened the door and asked why he was there.  After explanations, the guard told George to come in and strip down in public to one layer of outer clothing, to empty all of his pockets, remove his shoes, allow himself to be frisked and to walk through a metal detector.  With growing fear and trepidation and a fading determination in his heart, George complied.  With socked feet, he walked across the worn and tattered simulated hardwood floors that ran throughout the facility to the awaiting receptionist; was handed a clipboard with papers to be filled out and told to "Sit over there and fill these out."  Once filled out, he handed the papers back along with his Medicaid insurance card.

As George sat down, he glanced around the room of grey chairs each attached to the one next to it.  Three other people were in some stage of being processed.  All were asleep.  One was a woman whose 'one layer of outer clothing' had obviously been her only clothing for quite some time.  A man, asleep and draped across two chairs and covered with a blanket, lay motionless representing the hours of waiting he had endured thus far.  The other waiting room resident and only Caucasian of the three looked suspiciously familiar to George.  As George looked at him, asleep in his chair, he wondered if this was the same man he's seen in a recent "Has anyone seen my son?" flyer posted up and down the avenue.

One urine sample, one medical exam, one interview and six hours of room observation later, George was starting to experience dope sickness and needed to use the bathroom.  From observing, he knew that anyone who asked to be allowed into the locked bathroom would be checked on after a very short period of time.  George knew that he could not, during that short interval of privacy, prepare and inject the dope that he had smuggled in and stored on him where nothing to be consumed should ever be stored.

With an onset of diarrhea from dope sickness nearly guaranteed any minute, George requested to use the only bathroom.  He entered it and saw one toilet and two urinals against one wall none of which had any hint of current privacy provided except for the small holes in the wall that suggested that privacy enclosures once existed.  All pipes typical of bathroom fixtures were boxed in so as not to be used in combination with one's belt for the purposes of hanging and ending the misery.  But what did that matter?  By requirement, George had surrendered his belt hours ago.

It was more than George could take.  He walked out of the bathroom without feeling better, politely told the nurse that he was leaving, was reintroduced to his belongings, left and found a back alley nearby to use as his bathroom.
John's road to recovery is well underway.

George is living in a tent.

The one thing both facilities have in common:  Simulated Hardwood Floors.

[1] And don't think for a moment that there are no formerly fancy -homed people now on that sidewalk!
[2] While it goes beyond the point of this blog entry, it should be pointed out briefly that the ability of the Substance Use Disorder patient to rationally determine their 'readiness' is hampered by many factors of overwhelming non-rational thought processes.

Monday, May 27, 2019

It's Time to Plow Down Medicaid Mountain!

I was standing on this portion of the sidewalk on Kensington Avenue today as I was chatting with a man, a long time resident of Kensington.  I'd never met him prior to this moment.  As we stood there talking about how this area has become an open-air absolutely public no-need-to-hide-it grassroots overdose prevention site, men and women were sticking needles in their necks, tourniqueted arms and legs all in the name of 'taking their much-needed medicine.'  These men and women bear (real or blog names) such as Amy, Ashley, Gina, George, Jose, Jesus, Joseph, David, Manuel, Rashime and so many more. 

Used and uncapped syringes originally meant for insulin injections, piled up on the lighter colored portion of the sidewalk to the right of the step in the picture I've linked you to above.  As this man and I casually chatted in the presence of heroin, fentanyl and all sorts of mystery ingredients entering the veins of men and women I've come to love so very much, I reached in my pocket to be sure that my dose of Narcan was available.  It was and yet, I knew it would not be needed.  Thanks to Prevention Point, there is probably as much Narcan on this street as there is heroin!  

And that's the point of this blog…

These collections of human beings gathered together, whether they be under bridges designed to hold rail lines or on sidewalks of local 'mom and pop' businesses such as are on Kensington Avenue, serve a vital and life-saving purpose.  These men and women who would prefer not to have SubstanceUse Disorder as an officially recognized diagnosis in their lives take their potentially instantly deadly medicine because their bodies DEMAND that they do so, not because they want to nor choose to do so.  It is no longer their choice to take or not take their medicine.  

For those of us who have never walked down this path of Substance Use Disorder, decide now to intellectually accept this fact even if you can't understand it with a firsthand understanding.

Once you accept this fact, even if you can't totally understand it, we can begin to work together to make progress on doing something positive about solving this issue. 

Nearly 100% of the men and women on these streets are reliant on Medicaid for financial coverage of their health care needs.  

The inadequate levels of reimbursement to medical facilities are so insufficient that many places simply cannot afford to take these wonderful human beings in as patients.  Those that do focus on Medicaid patients can't afford to provide decency, dignity, nor respect in their settings.  The end result is a higher death rate among Substance Use Disorder patients on Medicaid compared to those with private insurance. 

This MUST be corrected!

I don't pretend to have the answers…

I do know this…

It's Time to Plow Down Medicaid Mountain!

I invite you to this new web address to better understand this situation:  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Pray for Melanie...

For over a year now, I've been sharing stories about "Melanie" in this blog series.  Here they are in reverse date order (for some reason I can't control).

Last summer, as I visited Melanie in jail, she promised me that she would never go back to using heroin.  She has maintained that promise and has told me so each time I've seen her since then.  She has continued to live on the streets for her own reasons that go beyond the point of this blog. 

Melaine has done fairly well until about 10 days ago when, again, for reasons of her own, heroin reentered her pattern of life and her bloodstream.  She has overdosed twice in these ten days and been saved by Narcan twice, once by a resident of the streets and once by a Philadelphia police officer who knows and cares very much for her.

On Wednesday, I found Melanie shortly after this second near death moment.  She asked if she could rest in my car.  She slept for the next couple of hours while I made my rounds visiting people with bananas, water, and song sheets.  I informed each outreach worker who I saw on the streets of Melanie's situation and each one had a different solution based on their experiences and the group they represented.

In the end, Melanie, with the help of the good people of Prevention Point, got out of my car and was considering going in there for help. 

As we hugged each other, I held her extra tight as I was keenly aware that I might never see Melanie alive again.  Her walking path of life is far too thin these days AND it is on the side of a cliff on what I'm calling "Medicaid Mountain."

Pray for Melanie...

Monday, May 13, 2019

Out of My Love for Diane, Guide Me God.

My maternal grandfather was listed as Missing In Action (MIA) for several months during World War I (WWI).  Once home, he refused to ever talk about those months.  To this day, we have no idea what he experienced.  We will never know.

Life as a homeless person dealing with Substance Use Disorder has some parallels to my grandfather's story.  They endure far more than what we hear about from them.  More often than not, these men and women enter their Substance Use Disorder and homelessness through the doors of some form of emotional trauma.

Once out on the streets, they endure more trauma by way of harsh treatment from Non-Substance Use Disorder persons, the medical community, and the legal system.  For men standing on street corners, harsh words and items thrown at them by passersby are common.  For women doing 'dates', degradation and violence are far more common than we ever hear.

That's what makes "Diane" such an awesome witness to her Christian Faith.  She endured far more as a person imprisoned on the streets by a situation she did not want and from which she sought healing than we will ever know.

Diane never told me any of the incidents that she would have most likely experienced.  Just like my grandfather's stories, we will never know. 

But I do know this:

Before the living water of Diane's life evaporated from the fine crystal and porcelain vessel that we recognized and hugged, she declared her Faith in her LORD and Savior one more time and in a way for all of us to know.  She wrote this in a letter to me that I received three days after she died:

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Diane are grieving our loss from our unique perspectives of parent, sibling, children and extended family or friend.  For some of us, this Christian Faith thing is not understood.  We grieve our loss of Diane in the absence of her Savior. 

Diane endured so much in her life and yet her Faith burned bright.  Maybe, just maybe, those of us who are struggling with our loss in the absence of Diane's Savior could consider taking a closer look at the One she claimed as her own.

In our loss of Diane, we are enduring so much pain.  If you are enduring this pain in the absence of the One Diane called Savior and LORD, I'd like to invite you to take a closer look at the Faith of Diane.

Perhaps this could be your conversation with God:

God, I'm hurting… I don't get it…  How could Diane experience so much pain in her years of suffering and yet maintain and declare Faith in You?  She knew of Your Love as an absolute Fact of Life.  I don't.  In honor of Diane, I'm willing to learn more about you.  I don't know that I'll ever really believe as did she but I'm willing to take a peek at who You are.  I'll read some of Your Bible.  I'll visit a church.  I'll ask others who share Diane's Faith.  My heart hurts so badly right now.  I don't get it God but out of my love for Diane, I'm willing to learn more.  Guide me, God.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

TODAY's Touch of the Master's Hand!

Touch of The Master's Hand
Myra Brooks Welch

Twas battered and scarred,
and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
'What am I bidden,
good folks,' he cried,
'Who'll start the bidding for me?'
'A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?'

'Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice; Going for three…'

But no,

From the room, far back,
a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust
from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: 'What am I bid for the old violin?'
And he held it up with the bow.
'A thousand dollars,
and who'll make it two?
Two thousand!
And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once;
three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,' said he.

The people cheered,
but some of them cried,
'We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?'

Swift came the reply:

'The touch of the Master's hand.'

And many a person
with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap
to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.

A 'mess of pottage,' a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is 'going' once, and 'going' twice,
He's 'going' and almost 'gone.'

But the Master comes,
and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul
and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand. 

I wish you could have seen TODAY's Touch of the Master's Hand!:

On this rainy Sunday, I walked up to "Cricket"[1] with an oddly shaped conglomeration of cloth.  "Hi Cricket. Come with me." I said as we entered Martin's Deli.  "I'm not allowed in there." She said.  "For this, you will be." I told her.  We walked in and I opened the cloth (my raincoat on this bad weather day) and she saw the case containing a 3/4 size violin.  She started shaking as she covered her mouth.  I opened the case as it sat on the top of the popsicle cooler.[2]

As I handed Cricket this 3/4 size violin, she took it in hand and, with hardly skipping a beat, lit up that deli with the fastest fingering and string usage I could have ever expected!  People pulled out their cameras.  Cricket danced with joy to her self made music and had an instant audience!

Cricket stopped.

In the doorway of Martin's Deli, Cricket cried.

Cricket spoke: "It's been over a year since I've played a violin."

I hugged her and she bawled the cry of one who unexpectedly reawakened her passion.  

As I held her, I simply said:  "Please know how much Jesus loves you." 

She cried some more.

She played some more.

As we were packing up this violin to keep it safe from the weather, the manager came within range and told Cricket to get out.

I wish you could have seen TODAY's Touch of the Master's Hand! 

PS: Please know you are a magnificent human being made in the image of GOD and you are Worthy of the Highest Dignity, Honor, Respect and Love.

Please Allow Yourself to be touched by the Master's Hand!

[1] A woman who is a classically trained violinist and who, until Substance Use Disorder rerouted her life, was a teacher of violin in the Suzuki Method in the area of West Chester Pa.
[2] in this deli near the intersection of Somerset Street and Kensington Avenue.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

In Memory of "Diane"

For as long as I live on this earth, I will forever remember my first moments with Diane.  I met her in the fall of 2017 at the north end of the Frankford Avenue bridge community.  I knew that this lady was new to the streets.  When we were close enough to talk, I introduced myself and asked her name.  She smiled and told me and then she asked:

"Chris, How are you?[1]  It's nice to meet you.  Are you from a church?"

"Yes.  I'm from Urban Hope Church."

"I love the church.  I go to Mass every day that I possibly can even living out here."

And She Slept

…. I want to tell you about a young woman in her mid-20s.  "Diane's" spirit shines bright with the inner light of her Christ who I know lives in her heart as she worships Him almost daily in Mass at the local Roman Catholic Church.   On Sundays, she occasionally attends a contemporary worship service at another church and invited me to join her there some Sunday.  She does what she can to stay physically clean and well dressed.  She always has a smile and an extra hug to give away.

To num the emotional pain of her childhood and through no fault of her own, addiction found its way into her life.  Having been cut off from her family, she financially supports her life by walking the streets looking for dates.  As she prepares to do so, she looks at me and says “It’s time to go humiliate myself.”  A tear, perhaps God’s tear from deep inside her soul, spills out and down her cheek even before she can complete that short sentence.
The mental anguish of self-humiliation and long hours with no sleep bring with them absolute exhaustion.  Upon returning to the bridge, "Diane" curled up on a piece of cardboard and covered herself with a nearby sheet.  As the cold dampness of this late fall overcame her, she began to shiver with no immediate solution to the problem.

Enter the Quit…

Barely an hour before this, a neighbor in Glen Mills gave me a queen sized quilt that had been sitting somewhere in their house unused and not really needed.  She gave it to me to give to someone in Emerald City.  When I saw Diane asleep and shivering just outside the cover of the bridge, I grabbed that quilt and wrapped her in it as snuggly as I could.  She awoke enough to say “Thank you.” as her teeth chattered. 

I knelt in close to her and said softly, “Jesus loves you just as you are.”  She nodded her head as one who knows such a fact as fact would do so.  

And she slept.



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 Studies in Urban Ministry 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.

I share these blogs with you at this sad time to bear witness to Diane's Christian Faith.  Diane's Commitment to her Christ and her Substance Use Disorder occupied equal space within her being.  One did not cancel out the other.  It is in this fact that we can know that our "Diane" moved to Heaven during this Holy Week and is with her Savior in Heaven as we mourn this first week of knowing she is gone from this earth but not from our hearts.

Diane's first week in Heaven is the most holy[3] of weeks in God's Church.  What a fantastic first Sunday for Diane to worship her King in the King's presence - Easter!  This Easter Sunday, please consider attending a church if for no other reason than to honor our friend whose life lives on in our hearts and in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

For those of you in Kensington, I invite you to join me - and I could really use your presence this week - at Urban Hope Church, 210 East Tioga (Tioga and A Street).  Our worship starts at 11:15 am with a special Easter breakfast beforehand at 10:00am. 

Final Thought: 

As I sit here at my computer on this rainy Saturday morning, I can't help but envision Diane on her first Friday in Heaven and our "Good Friday" the day we remembered the Crucifixion of Christ.  I can easily see her giving God and Jesus a hug, looking at each one and saying "Thank you.  How are you?"  She would really want to know. 

[1] Diane always asked not because it's a custom in our culture.  She always asked because she always really wanted to know. 
[2] Diane read every blog in which she was mentioned by "name" and thanked me for telling her story.
[3] dedicated or set apart for religious purposes, devoted to the service of God, relating to, belonging to, or coming from a divine being or power

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Days of Their Lives

After a bit over two years of visiting the good people of the streets of Kensington, I’ve been privileged to have them reach out to me by text, Facebook messenger and even that oldie but goodie – phone conversation.

Sometimes people contact me when they need something.  You might be thinking that it’s only when someone needs money that they contact me in hopes of getting some from me.  There’s a little of that but not much and people these days know that I won’t give money anyway.  Apart from being flat broke myself these days, it’s dangerous if that money goes toward their “medicine.”  That one five dollar bill could be unwittingly exchanged for that one packet laced with something that ends their life.  I don’t want to know that I gave them the money that ultimately killed them. 

As trusts grow between us, I get calls for help that include the more vulnerable aspects of living on the street.  I’ve been asked to take an individual to an emergency room for a condition that has arisen as a result of living on the street.  These have included orthopedic injuries from being hit by a motorcycle, or soft tissue injuries from an infected abscess, the result of an ill placed injection.  I’ve taken people in when pneumonia was taking over.

I’ve been called on to help move belongings from Emerald City to a new residence.  And, yes, I’ve even been called on by a lady who was stranded at a distant hotel when her ‘date’ left her without paying for her ‘services.'  In that situation, I was not able to get there but I thanked her for the trust she showed in reaching out to me – knowing that I would not judge her.

Each of these opportunities to serve these men and women bring with them the knowledge that there is trust in these relationships.  From time to time, things don’t go as expected or desired.   Whenever something goes not quite right, I try to take it as a learning opportunity to adjust how I do things and move forward. 

There’s a new aspect of this reaching out to me that I’m loving.  It’s those times when a person who I met on the street contacts me to tell me they’ve moved into an apartment.  More than once now, I’ve had the joy of sitting on their sofa, drinking their coffee that they made in their coffee maker as we watch a movie on their TV. 

It’s only through meeting people on their terms that this privilege can come to be.  By providing water and fruit and occasionally clothes and care packages, the doors of communication and caring are opened and established.  Closely related to this are the song sheets that I create and distribute at the same time.  The songs that I choose are current Christian songs that have lyrics of topics raised in conversations. 

As the water, bananas and song sheets have been more and more recognized as my typical things to hand out, it’s not unusual to be told by an individual that they don’t need the water or the banana but they do want the song sheet. 

As these months tick on by, I’ve noticed a growing trend, one that I appreciate.  It’s when one of these wonderful people contacts me just to say “Hi” or “Hey.” And “How are you?”  The needs of the street to occupy their every woken moment are giving way to the joys of their re-established life.  They are able to focus on the feelings of others. 

In all of these moments, I’ve come to understand that these days that turn into weeks, months and occasionally years are the days of THEIR lives not mine.  It hurts to the point of shedding my own tears to know that he is sleeping in an as of yet uninstalled drainage pipe in the I-95 construction project as he recalls that fateful night not so long ago and wonders why God killed his entire family in one swift car crash AND to know that she sleeps in some location that she thought was safe and secluded until she woke up only to realize she was “mostly naked with a guy almost on top of (her).”

It is indeed, our joy and privilege to demonstrate the Love of Christ with a blanket of  dignity, honor, respect and love covering these men and women and to walk with them as they navigate the days of their lives…

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Today was payday. God’s Timing is Perfect.

Today was payday.  Sadly, I had an unexpected bill that absolutely had to be paid today.  The total of it was 77% of my paycheck.  Ouch!

If I allowed it to do so, this financial frustration could have caused me to stay home and lay around on the thin mattress of my remaining funds.  I chose instead to make a trip to Kensington.  What better way to cheer myself up than come alongside men and women whose struggles are more than you and I will ever understand. 

I’m glad I did.

I’m glad I did, not so I could compare my frustration with their suffering but rather so I could receive the awesome blessings that come from people who have nothing more to give than a smile and a sparkle in their Faith-filled eyes, or the genuine nature of their handshake, fist bump or hug.  

My first stop was Prevention Point to look for two people I’ve not seen in a while.  Neither one was there.  I try not to be worried when I don’t see someone who has shared so much of their story with me over these couple of years but I do…

From there, I drove to the “Last Stop” very near the intersection of Kensington and Summerset.  Men and women who I’ve known for various lengths of time greeted me as I shared bananas, water, and song sheets.  

Whenever someone asks for two or more bananas, I always ask if they are asking for more because they find them ‘appealing.’  We laugh and then I point out that to the best of my knowledge, that’s the only banana joke out there…

Sometimes they laugh and say “Yes.”  Other times they say “No. I’m pregnant” Or “No. I need them for my children at home.”

It’s in a moment like that when the 23% that remains available from my current paycheck for the next two weeks gets put into quick perspective.

God’s Timing is Perfect

If I had not stopped at Prevention Point when I did and if I had not done each little thing leading up to my next story in these following paragraphs, what I'm about to tell you might not have happened…   

I was chatting with a couple of men who I’ve met before.  They were sharing with me their latest news on possible housing.  I glanced up the steps that lead to “The El” there at Summerset Station.  Of all the people to be walking down them and using crutches to do so, is the man I’d been talking to just before the shooting that occurred a bit to close to me a couple weeks ago.  He was just returning from a few days in the hospital.  He looked relatively great having gotten cleaned up and tended to for what had been ailing him increasingly so for weeks.
As I mentioned before, this man likes to call a particular member of "Angels In Motion" a wonderful outreach group that visits on a regular basis.  We made that phone call while this man sat in the front seat of my car while I continued to share bananas, water, and song sheets.  It wasn’t long before the pieces were coming together for this man to be taken by the person he called for a trip to “The Net” a place where people go to be screened and processed for admission to any one of several detox/rehabs scattered throughout the city primarily for people reliant on Medicaid.

I saw this man making his way down “The El’s” steps on his crutches about 1:00 pm.  It’s now 9:15 pm and I have just learned in the middle of this sentence that he has just now been approved and cleared for placement somewhere in The City of Brotherly Love “sometime in the next 72 hours.”  That is three days!!!  Three days of waiting!!!

Between now and then, he’s in a holding pattern, something like a plane circling a foggy airport, waiting for the fog to clear and hoping not to run out of fuel (determination to stick with his plan).  The plane running out of fuel in this analogy and this man running out of determination to see his plan through will lead to the same result, a crashed plane and a postponed hope for a new future being right around the corner.

In the midst of all of this, 

There was the moment when a street bound daughter asked me to text her Mom and tell her that she loves her very much and may have an injury that needs medical attention.  Her plan was to go to the nearby hospital after she earns[1] $10.00 to buy and inject her medicine.

There was the couple who wanted me to know that they were moving to their Pathways to Housing apartment next week.  They promised to let me know where and when so that I can visit.

There was the group of men who would intimidate a suburbanite as they clustered around me asking for bananas in multiples…  “Why?  Do you ALL find them appealing."  They laughed.


My blogs don’t always have a conclusion.  There’s a reason for that... 

As you read these last words, these stories from the streets continue whether I’m there to witness them or not.  

Each person mentioned is still there, ‘earning” funds to support their medicinal needs, trying to figure out how to feed their children, feeling desperately lonely, wondering if their arm is broken, being rained on with no way to dry off, being told to move from where they had hoped to lay for the rest of the night, wondering if they will see the next sunrise, missing their family, wondering why and “How will I…” and…….

[1] Please read between the lines to realize what "earns" means here.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

It's Way Past Time for Philadelphia Prison Release Reform

The following is adapted from a letter that I recently wrote to a judge on behalf of a person who is currently trapped in the legal system due to their Substance Use Disorder which is an officially recognized condition by the medical community...  Please also read the footnotes... 

Many thousands of people are dealing with Substance Use Disorder, an officially recognized condition as described in the DSM-5.  Virtually every illegal act that lands them in the court system has its roots in this disorder.[1]  Most want to stop using and move on to their new life goals. 

If given the slightest opportunity to do so, a person's Substance Use Disorder will win the battle in demanding that they continue to "take her medicine."[2]  To whatever extent the court can serve as a de facto physician[3] in bringing about healing, I urgently and humbly ask that when the time is right, any person within the court's jurisdiction would be transferred directly to an appropriate care facility that will serve them in a way that is best for them and will truly help them achieve their goals for a new and productive life.[4] 

This situation applies to men and women.  
Women in this situation are forced to carry an extra dose of potential harm…

In the absence of a predetermined place for a woman in this situation to go to directly from her current incarceration, she will be released from RCF[5] any time between 7pm and the middle of the night.[6]  She will be provided with one token for the bus which is available to her right off the jail grounds and will have little choice but to return to Kensington.  She will be released without whatever personal effects she had on her when brought to RCF.  These items, which include her ID and some degree of cash will need to be picked up by her on some future business day between the hours of 9:00am and 1:30pm.[7],[8]  She will be required to hop on the visitor's bus and return to the same building in which she had been incarcerated for days or months.[9]

Between her moment of release from RCF and retrieving her personal belongings, upon her return to the familiarity of the streets of Kensington, with hunger setting in and the call of her Substance Use Disorder screaming for attention, she will have little choice but to succumb to her nightmare of humiliating herself by 'dating'[10] so as to earn a few dollars for food and heroin.

In the absence of the relative safety of community found within Emerald City[11], her chance of finding any place to lay her head will be next to nil.[12]  She will have little choice but to find someone's residential step or piece of sidewalk upon which to lay and consume her first doses of heroin for this round of homelessness.  

During her incarceration, her body has 'reset itself' to its tolerance of how much heroin she can safely[13] handle.  A 'normal' dose for her prior to incarceration could easily end her life on this night and bring one more set of loved ones together for a funeral that could have been prevented.  If she has found an abandoned house to rest in and inject her heroin, it may be days or weeks before anyone finds her decaying body.

She may pass out due to her body having 'reset itself' and not being used to this amount of heroin.   In the absence of communities such as Emerald City, she runs the risk of being attacked while lying unconscious in an area less secure than a 'tent community.' 

Do you see my point?

Let us please work together to establish new ways of transitioning our sons and daughters from incarceration to actual health care and to protect them from the symptomatic behaviors of their officially medically recognized Substance Use Disorder.

[1] This disorder almost always has its roots in some form of emotional trauma.  That's a subject for another day.
[2] This is a recognized pattern for any person who would be in this situation.
[3] acting or existing in fact but without official sanction
[4] The original letter to the judge, upon which this blog is based was written almost three weeks ago.  A direct transfer was already part of the judge's plan for this person.  So far, the judge and this person have fully believed that the transfer would happen on two different dates.  This person is still sitting in a 6x9 jail cell at RCF.  She is sharing this space with another woman and being given no degree of counseling.  In her own words through tears when I visited her two days ago:  "It's humiliating!  There's nothing to do except sit.  When either of us needs to do so, we are forced to piss and shit in front of each other in the exposed toilet in our cell."   Is this any way to treat human beings who are made in the image of God and who are dealing with a recognized condition formally recognized by the medical community as Substance Use Disorder?
[5] Riverside Correctional Facility
[6] I have been there to pick up three people upon release from RCF. The earliest was approximately midnight.  The latest was after 2:00am.
[7] In my recent visits to RCF, there have been more formerly incarcerated women on the visitor's transport bus coming to retrieve their belongings than there have been visitors coming to see their incarcerated loved ones.
[8] To do so, she will need to ride public transit which costs money, money which will most likely be earned through 'dating', an illegal act for which she could be arrested and taken back to jail before her first 'freed' sunrise.
[9] There is no reasonable purpose for expecting a person who has been declared free of their charges or 'done their time' to return to the place of their incarceration simply to retrieve their personal property which includes their ID. This ID is required to be presented in various places so as to achieve services that get these people moving toward the next healthy steps of their life.
[10] And please understand that in the process of 'dating' to earn funds that she was not given upon her release, she may be picked up by police and charged with prostitution and end up back in jail before the sun rises the next day.
[11] Which was disbanded by the City of Philadelphia on January 31, 2019…
[12] Established shelters will be filled to capacity at this time of night.
[13] I know… It's a bit of an ironic and inappropriate word to use but it sort of fits in this case.