Progress arrived in the form of a backhoe and big blue dumpster.
It was the desperation of a woman retrieving something from a building that was about to be demolished that caught my attention, though, and made me think not so much about the price of progress, but the people being lost as our city builds toward the future.
Last week I told you about the drug house that sits across the street from the radio station. You know the one. It’s been sitting there for a year. It has become covered in graffiti with used orange capped needles strewn about while the developer waits for the city to give them a green light to build some affordable housing.
Well, I have an update.
In addition to the backhoe and the dumpster, there are orange cones so no one can park in their usual spots. The same thing is most likely happening in your neighborhood and slowing down your commute. It’s a hassle, I get it.
But I found that I could not stop thinking about the woman I saw. She appeared to be in her late 20s to early 30s making one last push to get possessions out of the boarded up house. I don’t know this woman, but I found myself making quick judgments about her. Maybe she is an addict and she had stashed her drugs there. Maybe this is where she came to get high. Or maybe she’s homeless, and has had a free place to live for the last year.
It’s easy to harden your heart when you see people like this woman.
A few minutes later I tried to put myself in her place. What would have to happen in my life to wind up stashing a backpack in an abandoned building? And what should I expect from society if I was that person?
I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who just liked to party and one gateway drug led to another harder drug. But the latest research from the Chris Christy led panel on opioid addiction found that the vast majority of new opiate addicts started in the doctors office, not in the club. Most new addicts’ dealers wear a lab coats and take insurance.
I can’t imagine myself sliding down the gateway drug hole. I’ve never been much of a party guy. But I can imagine a scenario where I get injured and get prescribed pain medication by a doctor. I can imagine becoming addicted that way. Holding it together as I burn through my savings. Then selling possessions. Then losing my job. The spiral continues until I could imagine myself with burnt bridges between me and all my friends and family, alone, searching for that next high.
It’s possible. I hope it will never happen, but it’s possible.
So what’s our responsibility to this woman across the street? Soon her stash house will be torn down. Soon shiny new micro apartments will take their place. Where will she be?
What we’re talking about here is not hardening our hearts. As we debate possible solutions and the idea of safe injections sites or methadone clinics or housing for the homeless comes up, remember that it is possible that any one of us could become that person. If the cards fell in just the right way, that could be me or you sleeping under the bridge.
Sometimes it’s maddening to watch how politicians twist themselves up with pretzel logic around these issues, but I don’t think we have any other choice. Helping these people is just the right thing to do whether you are looking at it morally or fiscally.
What we’re talking about here is remaining engaged even though it’s tough. Sometimes it seems impossible. But it’s the right thing to do, and it’s going to take all of us contributing in one way or another.