PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–The El screeching across the tracks. Music blaring from nearby businesses. The bus dropping off passengers at an intersection. They’re the sights and sounds of Kensington.
But something else, something unwelcome, has become just as familiar, neighbors say.
“Needles, drugs, just everything that’s bad,” said 17-year-old Adrianna Nieves.
That’s a life Christopher Marshall knows firsthand as a former addict who says he used to shoot up multiple bundles of heroin a day.
“For a long time, I thought that was going to be my destination, that was my lot in life: to die under a bridge with a needle in my arm,” Marshall said.
He’s now sober, five and a half years to the day, and heads Last Stop Sobriety, the same recovery home that helped him get clean.
“Being tired of that kind of life, living like an animal, I wanted to get sober myself,” Marshall said. “Now when I see people out on the streets, I don’t see addicts, I don’t see hopeless. I see future real estate salespeople, I see business owners. It breaks my heart that I know this is possible but they’re the last people to think it’s possible.”
But too many others, he says, are still shackled by the chains of opioid addiction.
“It’s real bad right now. I’ve never seen it like this,” he said. “In this neighborhood, it’s just an everyday occurrence. You walk around, you see a needle on the ground, a cap, a cooker, empty bags of dope.”
It’s gotten so bad that even some local librarians are taking it upon themselves to learn how to administer Narcan as some people overdose outside of their doors.
On Thursday morning, concerned residents collected hundreds of opioid needles littered across the community and presented them safely in jars to city leaders.
“We’re delivering these needles as a plea for help,” community organizer Shane Claiborne said. “We don’t think it should be normal to find needles but on our way to school or have to check the park before our kids play football or frisbee and pick up all the needles. The kids in our zip code are as valuable as the kids in any other zip code in Pennsylvania.”
But they understand the collective solution also requires a path to help and healing.
“There’s always hope. It’s never too late. As long as you’re breathing, you still have a chance,” he said.
Attorney Larry Krasner, who won the primary for the District Attorney seat, also spoke at City Hall, addressing what he calls the problem of mandatory sentencing.
City Councilman David Oh also acknowledged, “We aren’t doing enough. But we are doing something.”
That includes Mayor Jim Kenney’s organization of a task force trying to battle this epidemic.
For more information on Last Stop Sobriety, visit laststopSobriety.org.