I work on what is commonly called “methadone mile.” It’s also been referred to as “ground zero” for the opiate addiction in Boston. I’ve heard those who are commonly seen walking around the area referred to as “zombies” or the “walking dead,” and even worse, as I’m sure you can imagine.
There are two methadone clinics, two shelters, a detox, and we (PAATHS) are in the same building as the needle exchange, in the immediate area.
Most of These People Have No Support
Today I saw a person I know in recovery post a picture on Facebook of somebody on Massachusetts Avenue, who was under the influence, with the sarcastic caption “nice to be back on Mass Ave.” I reminded her that both her and I are one bad decision away from being in a similar situation. She apologized and took the post down.
At least 75% of the clientele we serve are homeless. The vast majority suffer from mental illness as well as substance use disorders. Also, most of these people have no support. No familial support. No sober friends. For many this is the life they know. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad, heartbreaking at times, but they are still people. They are still somebody’s son/daughter, brother/sister, etc.
Love = No Judgement
On an average day, from my walk from the garage to work (2 blocks) I have maybe four people smile and say hi, nod their heads at me, or tell me they’ll be in later to talk. For many of our typical clientele, the staff, and PAATHS and AHOPE (needle exchange) are the only people in the area who are not caught up in addiction who are happy to sit and talk to them. People who will not judge. People who have formed bonds with this population. If someone’s not ready for treatment, we are a safe place to come and stay warm, grab a coffee and a soup and talk.
The Cancer Mile??
I hope nobody takes this the wrong way. I’ve lost someone close to me to cancer and I’ve watched my dad fight and beat it. I’m not going to get into an argument over whether or not addiction is a disease. In my opinion it is. There may be some choice involved in the earliest stage of addiction, so this might not be a completely fair analogy, but what if a major hospital in Boston decided they were no longer going to treat cancer patients and discharged them to the street? What if these cancer patients, untreated, congregated in a four block radius in the city? Would they be stigmatized? Called names? Ignored by most?
I’ve gotten a little off my point. I’m guessing The majority of the people reading this article are pretty mindful of the language they use and the way they treat the homeless, the sick and the suffering. But if you hear someone else use offensive language, or treat someone suffering from this illness unfairly, please, do not hesitate to speak up. It’s the only way we as a culture will change.
Written by Michael Leslie from PAATH, Boston
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