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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Sunday, March 3, 2019, was a day that changed my ministry efforts forever.

But be aware… This is a two or three part blog…  There may be a surprise ending…

The day started out normal enough with a quick visit to the roaming remnant residents of Emerald City.  I saw many of the regular folks and a bunch of new ones.  I was aware of, well, let's call it "commerce" taking place on the side streets that connect Emerald Street with Frankford Avenue.  When I see this, I make it a point not to go down those side streets.

After a wonderful and very meaningful time of authentic praise and worship at Urban Hope Church, I returned to Emerald Street and parked just a car length or so north of Silver Street.  I unloaded my cooler of water and case of bananas.  I asked one man if it was OK for me to walk down Silver Street, something that I don’t think I’ve ever done.  As I made my way down, I was aware of a dealer selling people their "medicine" and a considerable number of people, buying or just hanging out in the area.  I saw one man whose health is deteriorating and loves to call one of the other outreach workers if I’m there and that person is not.  We casually tried to make that call and ended up Facebook messaging back and forth just a few yards from the dealer and the rest of the crowd.  Many of the men and women appreciated the bananas and water.

At some point during this, a person – and I can’t think who right now – I don’t even recall if it was a man or woman – asked me if we could talk privately.  I said “Sure.  Let’s go back to my car and chat behind it.”  In this link, you can see the paved area on the left.  This is Emerald Street where I was parked.

In retrospect, that was the first obvious moment when God pulled me off of Silver Street.  Within a few minutes, a white car pulled up on the opposite side of Emerald and a man got out of the driver’s side.  I didn’t think much of it.  People drive up and park there all the time.  It’s usually suburban people buying their drugs to take home.

Within a few seconds, commotion ensued as it was realized among the crowd of these people who I care so very much about that this was an armed robbery of the drug dealer.  The man got back in his car and drove away.  The commotion died down and I continued to distribute socks that had been recently donated. 

A few minutes later, I’m not exactly sure of the order of gunfire or screams of “He’s got a gun!” but somewhere in there, the deepest and loudest booms echoed throughout this high walled area just north of the former community called Emerald.  The sounds were so deep and so loud that the first two of the five that I heard I was convinced could not be sounds from a gun.[1] 

As people ran out of Silver Street and other people ran from where they were to where they were not yet out of sheer confusion of not knowing where these explosive sounds were originating, the lady looking through the socks jumped into the passenger side of my car and I jumped in my side.  I drove away while she called 911 on her phone.  Within seconds, the area was swarming with Philadelphia’s police.

We drove around for a bit checking on our scared and scattered street friends.  To the best of our knowledge at the time, no one had been hurt.  

UPDATE:

I'm probably going to do a re-write of the next couple of paragraphs but don't have the time to do so right now.  I discovered a couple of days later that the person shot five times and killed on Emerald that day was killed several hours after I was there as he slept under the bridge.  The five shots I heard apparently hit no one...


It was only that evening, that I learned from the other outreach worker mentioned above of one fatality, a man in his 30s to 40s who had been shot five times, the exact number of booming gunshots that I heard…

I was deeply concerned for the man who had tried to use my phone in the minutes before all this happened.  He does not move quickly these days due to failing health secondary to his Substance Use Disorder and was on Silver Street when this happened.  I did not find him at all in the minutes following the shooting and I feared the worst.  I made some phone calls to Philadelphia authorities and was told that the person I was concerned for was not the person killed.  I’ve still not heard who it was.   I might know him and I might not. 

I took my passenger back to her shelter at Prevention Point and handed out the remainder of my bananas and all but one water that I decided to keep.  Upon reflection, keeping that one water was God's way of building the stage upon which the events described in the upcoming part two of this multi-part blog played out.

As I had been handing out water and bananas, I was telling people not to go to Emerald right then.  One older woman who I'd not met but she recognized me said that she was there when the shooting happened.  This lady who is named after a Saint, then looked at me with a deep smile and reached into her cart of worldly belongings.  She pulled out a purple planted orchid and gave it to me as a gift along with a hug.  This orchid now sits on my desk in front of me as I type this in my suburban apartment and is named after her.

As I started to head for home, I had to stop for a while and consider all that I had just experienced.  I pulled over on Lehigh Avenue pointing east and up a hundred yards or so from Frankford Avenue.  A heavy drizzle was starting to fall.  I sat and considered the shield of protection that I felt as the shots rang out.  I thanked God for keeping so many people safe. 

I glanced out my driver's door window as I sat there.  A young lady who I've seen but not interacted with very much was walking toward Emerald Street on the opposite side of the street.  I called over to her not to go down there right now.  She waved and then asked…

"Do you have any water?"

"I have one left."






[1] In retrospect, I compared them to the sound of your standard Boom of an M80 firework.

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