Someone gave me an extra big tip on the blog tip jar, a few weeks ago. It was so big I felt guilty spending it all on myself, so I used some of it on breakfast food, doughnuts and sausage and a bunch of bananas, and brought then to The Friendship Room downtown.
Molly’s husband Bill was working there. He thanked me for all the food, but he was most excited about the bananas. He put them into the fruit bowl at the table, where three guests were sitting; the guests, too, got excited for the bananas.
Bill said they can never get enough bananas.
There isn’t any place to buy fruit downtown. The only regular grocery store downtown closed a couple of years ago. Homeless people, and poor people in housing but without any transportation, have to walk for more than an hour to get to the nearest one now, unless they have bus fare and look presentable enough to be allowed on the bus. They can use their EBT to buy junk food at the downtown gas station, but there’s no produce for sale there. And if they can get produce, there’s the matter of being able to eat it. Most of the guests at the Friendship Room have very bad teeth– most homeless people you meet have very bad teeth for obvious reasons. Even if they all had perfect healthcare coverage, they couldn’t make a dental appointment when they don’t have a place to live.
Bananas are the solution– an inexpensive produce you can eat without teeth. They go through huge cases of bananas every week.
And Bill told me something more. “Addicts,” he said, whispering that word politely, “have trouble balancing their electrolytes.”
There are a lot of addicts in Steubenville– there is a lot of heroin here, and a lot of suffering souls addicted to heroin. There are many ways you could get addicted to heroin. Yes, it’s possible that some people became addicted purely through their own fault, trying it for fun to see what will happen despite the warnings of their parents and teachers, but that’s not usually what happens. Many people turn to heroin because they were prescribed too many opiates for painful medical conditions– they obeyed their doctors’ orders and then got addicted. And, quite a few heroin addicts are literal slaves.
I’ve written about the slaves before, but I feel that I should tell their story again and again. Several of the guests at The Friendship Room are slaves. They are the property of pimps; they were kidnapped or sold by their parents when they were teenagers. The pimps injected them with heroin, and now they can’t get off. They can’t escape. If they go to the police, they’ll be arrested and put in prison for prostitution, and once you’ve been convicted of prostitution you’re never allowed to get EBT or other government assistance again. Just try putting your life together when you were taken out of school and forced into sex slavery as a teenager, with the health problems heroin inflicts on your body, without food stamps or any help at all.
Heroin withdrawal is not something you can accomplish through willpower. You can’t drink club soda and practice the Twelve Steps, to break a heroin addiction. Heroin withdrawal can kill you. The only way to get “clean” is to go to rehab. But there’s no rehab in Steubenville. Molly and Bill drive heroin addicts to the emergency room for treatment all the time. The emergency room can stabilize them for the evening, so they don’t die just then, but they don’t have the facilities to help them through withdrawal and they don’t have any rehab they can refer them to either. The addicts go right back to the street and prostitute themselves for more heroin, not because they haven’t learned their lesson but because it’s the only way to stay alive.
Molly, Bill and the other volunteers at the Friendship Room do what they can to ease their suffering. They drive them to the emergency room. They welcome them in for meals and for company. They give them bananas to balance their electrolytes. But they can’t get them free of the pimps or the heroin.
This makes me so angry. I’ve written nearly seven hundred words to describe these people’s predicament, and I think it would take several thousand more to adequately describe my anger. We live in what’s supposed to be the richest country in the world. But here in Steubenville you can easily meet slaves in desperate need of medical treatment, whose only helpers and advocates have nothing to offer but donated bananas– and they can’t even always keep bananas in stock.
Try to speak for these people, and you can’t get through. Everyone who went to school in the 80s and 90s will blankly tell you that they should have made better life choices and remembered to just say no to drugs. Comfortable middle-class people will say “they should go to the police” and refuse to believe that that will go wrong. Devout religious folks will frown upon comforting drug addicts because “they might think we’re affirming their lifestyle.” Here in Steubenville, people sternly say that you can’t talk about the heroin problem or prostitution, because talking about how bad it is will discourage entrepreneurs from opening businesses in the area. They’ll ask why we should help addicts instead of the “deserving” poor.
And what am I to do? I’ll keep praying. I’ll keep bringing bananas to the Friendship Room. And I’ll keep writing these stories in the hopes of reaching someone, anyone, willing to look at what is actually happening.
When you meet a drug addict, you’re not meeting a cosmic joke who broke the law for fun to see what would happen. You’re not meeting a stupid kid who didn’t listen to McGruff the Crime Dog. You are meeting a child of God who has a serious, chronic mental and physical illness which is likely to kill them. You have no idea how they acquired that addiction or if it’s their fault. It’s quite likely that, if you were in their shoes, you’d have made the same choices or worse– provided that you actually had any choices. Sometimes there are no choices. Often enough, drug addicts are slaves, and slaves don’t have choices at all.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor. If you can hear it too, repent of your pride. Turn and help them.
(image via Pixabay)