Kensington Storefront workers facing the opioid crisis head-on: 'We need more help' from the city - Generocity Philly

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Jun. 6, 2018 11:20 am

Kensington Storefront workers facing the opioid crisis head-on: ‘We need more help’ from the city

An estimated 80 to 130 people visit the public art-making space per day, but certified recovery specialists are scarce. Reps from Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Mural Arts say help is on the way.

DBHIDS Deputy Commissioner Roland Lamb and Mural Arts Director Jane Golden at the opening of the Kensington Storefront in March 2017.

(Photo by Grace Shallow)

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information. (8/17, 7:03 p.m.)
A do-it-yourself attitude is integral at the Kensington Storefront, a public art-making space that hosts programs for people experiencing addiction, trauma and homelessness.

At the storefront, Rosalind Pichardo, better known as Roz, shares plates of home-cooked pork chops, rice and beans. Michael Worthy, a volunteer, may tend to people’s scrapes and sores with one of the first-aid kits kept there, gently coaxing those who seem to need professional care to visit a hospital.

If there’s a notable commotion on Kensington Avenue, Pichardo will rush out and possibly administer a dose or two of Narcan, an overdose reversal drug. She’s saved nearly 30 lives so far.

For Pichardo, Worthy and the storefront’s other staffers and volunteers, it’s the norm. But it can get overwhelming and, more than a year after its opening, Pichardo has one request: “We need more help” from the city and community, she said.

The storefront opened in March 2017, born out of the Porch Light program, a collaboration between Mural Arts and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) that sponsors neighborhood hubs meant to increase community wellness.

The site also has community partnerships with Prevention PointImpact Services Corporation and New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC):

  • NKCDC has offered services to people with housing issues, and during the school year, NKCDC provides one social work field placement student to assist workers at the storefront. The organization also helps Mural Arts target its community outreach in Kensington.
  • Impact Services has helped with staffing and programming choices.
  • Prevention Point holds a monthly free Narcan training and a weekly support group for people who are taking medication-assisted treatment at the storefront.

Now, Mural Arts and the community partners largely staff the storefront, in addition to volunteers. As for DBHIDS, neither Pichardo nor Worthy said they’ve seen a department outreach worker in the space.

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On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Coordinated Response to Addiction by Facilitating Treatment (CRAFT), a DBHIDS program, is held at Prevention Point, said Roland Lamb, the department’s deputy commissioner. Certified recovery and peer specialists from DBHIDS are also supposed to offer assistance at the storefront.

Pichardo and Worthy — who both work at the storefront on at least one of the days CRAFT is held — said this hasn’t happened. Lamb said the department will look into it, and that they may misunderstand who is a DBHIDS worker since Prevention Point’s outreach team is DBHIDS-funded. (Pichardo, who is paid by Porch Light and facilitates the Voices of Survivors group, also works at Prevention Point but is not affiliated with CRAFT.)

Lamb added that the strategy for the storefront has shifted since it opened. Originally, Prevention Point would house all the outreach workers, and the storefront would refer people to them. As more people began accessing the storefront, Lamb said the department realized it needs a larger presence there. Pichardo and Worthy estimate between 80 to 130 people visit the storefront a day.

“There are a number of different demands being made in our system right now,” he added. “What we’ve decided is this is one of those things that has to be a priority, that we have to figure out a way that we’re going to continue to fund it as long as we see that the numbers of people that are coming to the storefront and our ability to engage them.”

"This is a dilemma that's in the community and that ultimately is going to be resolved by the community."
Roland Lamb, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services

Laure Biron, the Porch Light program director at Mural Arts, said, as a partner, DBHIDS offers the storefront funding, input and connections to already available resources in Kensington, like Prevention Point.

Biron added that Worthy is the site’s only certified recovery specialist (CRS), but DBHIDS and Mural Arts are developing a program to have more CRSs at the storefront. Its details, such as when it will begin and what days CRSs will be at the storefront, are still being arranged, she said.

A CRS meets a person where they are to identify their needs and find solutions, Worthy said. He estimates that a CRS has a caseload of about three to five people on average, as opposed to the dozens of people in the storefront when he volunteers on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Pichardo said having more DBHIDS workers in the storefront may mitigate the challenges that arise for workers when people share stories about deep-rooted trauma and mental health concerns.

This leads to the worst thing Pichardo said she experiences at the storefront: Only having “I don’t know” as a response when someone asks how to get help for a certain issue.

“We need that worker that can deal with more of a mental health aspect,” Pichardo said. “We can do what we do for the brief moment, but that’s a Band-Aid. They need something that’s going to be a little more stable for them. They’re not stable when they come in here, either their addiction or their mental health.”

Kathryn Pannepacker, an artist at the storefront, has posted similar appeals for more support from the city on social media. She declined to be interviewed for this story.

For now, workers often use their lived experiences to relate to the people coming in.

Worthy, for instance, is in long-term recovery and struggled to access treatment, spending two days in the waiting room of a Philadelphia in withdrawal before being admitted in 2009. Pichardo survived an attempted homicide, suicide and lost her brother and boyfriend to homicide. Her twin sister also died by suicide. At the storefront, she carries a pack of cigarettes to help people relax while she tries to coax them out of their thoughts of suicide or using drugs again.

There’s also a gap in the storefront’s hours of operation. Pichardo has called on other community organizations to offer their services and time: With more community input, the storefront could be open for longer hours. Lamb agreed, saying it would ideally be accessible 24/7.

“This is a dilemma that’s in the community and that ultimately is going to be resolved by the community,” Lamb said. “All the things that we’re doing are in support of the community.”

Biron said determining and addressing the needs at the storefront has been a moving target due to the transpiring events in Kensington over the last year, such as the clearing of the Gurney Street encampment, a bitter winter and — most recently — the encampments under the bridge that were cleared out last week.

Pichardo, who protested the city clearing out the encampments, said the storefront can be a trying atmosphere when she’s working with individuals who experience daily trauma. But, when the storefront is empty and the lights are shut off, it’s also where she reflects while painting and listening to the Market-Frankford line roll by.

That’s at least until she hears another commotion outside — then she’s up, Narcan in hand, ready to assist.

###

Update on Aug. 17, 2018:

DBHIDS-trained recovery advocates have begun providing peer support at the Kensington Storefront, in addition to the Mural Arts volunteers, according to a spokesperson. The department trained 10 recovery advocates who all have either a certified peer specialist or certified recovery specialist training certification.

Three of the advocates will be at the storefront on Tuesdays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), Wednesdays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Thursdays (noon to 2 p.m.). Starting Tuesday, Aug. 21, a fourth advocate will also be at the storefront during those times.

DBHIDS spokesperson Joel Avery said the department has been planning the staffing change almost since the storefront’s opening in March 2017.

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