Tag Archives: drugs

Lessons from the Street

When the guy approached in the strip center parking lot early one Saturday morning and told me his story, I fell for it. He said he had driven all night from Ohio with his family, had no money and ran out of gas. We walked to his car, saw his family and the cynic in me, checked his license tag. He just needed $20 and he’d be able to buy gas and get home. I gave it to him. So did my wife later that day when she came to return what I’d bought. When we shared the stories, we felt like chumps.

Then there was that day when the visibly upset women approached my wife in another strip center early one evening. The woman told the story of leaving her husband who beat her. My wife walked with her to the old car and was introduced to the precious, poorly dressed children. She fell for it and gave her money. When she saw the same woman the next day and was approached again, she felt deeply betrayed.

Then there was that time when a homeless man came to our door and asked for help. We gave him money and food under the condition he never come to our house again. He returned the next day. And the next. He said he wanted to work for the money and food and offered to wash our car. My wife, in a moment of tough love and generosity, told him she’d give him $10 to wash our daughter’s car that had been parked for months and desperately needed it. He, of course, washed our car – the clean car. When he came back the next day, he said he was cold and I gave him one of my coats. The next morning he was at our doorstep again. This time, he said, “I really don’t like this coat. Do you have anything else?” He went on to say that he was ready to go to the shelter we had suggested and if we’d give him a ride to where the bus would take him, he’d go. Half way there, he said, “Damn. I left my cigarettes in your coat.” So, of course, we drove back to our home, retrieved the smokes that he could afford even though he couldn’t afford food and took him to the bus stop. As he was getting out, the man, well, passed gas. I said to my wife, “at least he left us a little something to remember him by.”

We all have stories. When someone needs help, and we can, most of us do. But are we really helping?

A few years ago, a friend had cards printed with addresses and phone numbers of shelters and organizations who help the homeless. He’d tape a MARTA token on it (MARTA no longer uses tokens and MARTA cards are expensive).

Another friend, Clay, kept a box of energy bars in his trunk to give to people who were hungry. He explained to me that helping the homeless should be left to professionals. That it was way too complicated, and potentially dangerous, for individuals to get involved.

When I first moved near Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, being the liberal do-gooder that I am, or pretend to be, I’d stop and engage each person that I thought was homeless. I got to know dozens of men (women don’t do well living in Piedmont Park). I began as a naïve missionary. Each day I’d go for my walks with a budgeted amount of money to hand out if asked and cards or literature on shelters and programs that teach men how to get off the street. One by one, I saw that these men who had asked for my money for transportation shelter or food, instead, spent it on beer. Each would eventually get arrested for public drinking or drunkenness. I don’t give money anymore.

For a while, I’d tell homeless men, if they were hungry, I’d feed them. My wife and I quickly turned into a short order cooks. I also stopped that idea – it was impossible to sustain. Though, and as result of the leftovers from LikeTheDew.com’s Deviled Egg Recipe Contest judging, they did ask me, “why did all those deviled eggs taste so different?” They also offered their votes, which were not included in the contest judging.

Over the years, some of the homeless men would come and never be seen again, but others seem to live in the park permanently. I gave them clothes when they needed them, until they started asking too often and I had to stop. Ditto on razors, soap, and dental supplies. Ditto sleeping bags, tarps, blankets, phone cards, MARTA cards and the like. And then, I met Donnie.

Donnie painting Tee ShirtsDonnie was special. He didn’t belong in the park. He was in his late twenties. He had worked as an artist and animator and lost his job. Got depressed and started drinking or doing drugs and lost his family. He was clean now and you could see it in his face. The guy had more charisma and charm than almost anyone I’d ever met. He didn’t ask for it, but one day I bought him a business: paints, brushes, a portable easel, a few dozen blank tee-shirts and a backpack to carry them. Donnie was like a kid at Christmas. He went to work painting the most incredible original art on shirts. He sold them in the park. I told him that when he ran out of shirts, I’d re-stock him and I did. Donnie sustained his life and saved some of the money he made to start over. Then one night, the inevitable happened. He was robbed. When I next saw Donnie, he didn’t ask me to buy him another art kit. He told me, instead that he had called his mother in Alabama and asked if he could come home. She wired him the money for bus fare. He just wanted to say thank you and good-bye. I still hear from him from time to time through his cousin. He now has a job, a place of his own and is still close to his mom and family.

Then there was Terrell. Terrell was also special. When I met him, he was living with a girlfriend and was working in the kitchen of a nearby restaurant. Every few days, he’d prepare a meal, with ingredients donated by his restaurant, and serve it picnic style in the park to some of those, less fortunate. We admired his sharing nature and also contributed. I don’t know if was drugs or booze, but Terrell had a dramatic falling out with the restaurant. He also had one with his girlfriend and started calling the park his home.

Terrell was in his early thirties. Healthy. Smart. And motivated. The park was just temporary. He approached people who lived in the neighborhoods around the park and asked to do odd-jobs – yard work and the like. It worked for a while, but wasn’t enough to get him on his own. My wife and I befriended Terrell. We even broke the cardinal rule and invited him and his new girlfriend into our home. We got him a cell phone from the federal program. We helped him get an apartment with an organization that helped couples get off the street. The apartment deal was pretty straightforward: he was expected to work and pay $100 a month. He also was required to have regular drug testing. He made it on his own the first month. His girlfriend left him the second month and we helped out with the money he needed for rent. The third month he was back in the park. Terrell, we learned, couldn’t – and didn’t want to – pass the drug test. That was almost two years ago. Terrell has been arrested five or six times since then – three times in one month alone – stupid stuff – drinking on the bench near 10th Street and jaywalking. He’s lost about 50 pounds and his eyes are always glazed over.

We don’t have much to do with Terrell, but some months back, he approached me and told me a story. He said that he’d heard about a doctor who would diagnose him as bipolar and about a lawyer who could then get him disability. Disability, plus food stamps were his plan to get his life together. In exchange for a couple of hundred dollars a month, he would never be able to get a real job again – the price of disability. I begged him to reconsider and get help. I saw Terrell last week. He has been approved for disability.

Then there was last week. I met this kid standing near our little midtown grocery store. He was hungry and I walked him inside and bought him a sandwich. I’m sure you have seen him, too. Early twenties. Hair long and unkept. Sad and lonely expression on his face. Layers of dirty clothes with his shirts out. His pants were so low that at least six inches of his underwear was showing. I’m no snob. I’m all for individual expression – in fact, I am sure that many would suggest I have my own unique “style.” But I couldn’t help thinking while I was talking to this young man, “no one will ever get a good job with underwear showing.” (Note: I know that for some of you, this is straight line and there’s some joke that might suggest that is not true for the opposite gender – not PC.)

As strange as it sounds, I sometime fantasize about how to solve the homeless problem. I daydream of getting donated land and building a new form of inexpensive and efficient housing. I consider little things, like lockers to protect what they have. More public bathrooms. Utilizing some of the empty and bankrupt condo buildings. But each time my daydream comes around to one problem that I cannot figure out how to overcome: drugs and booze, which is connected to crime, which is connected to violence. How can it be solved?

Leave it to the professionals. Leave it and support those organizations that help large numbers of people survive, while each night having a zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. Leave it and support those organizations that help one person at a time learn how to believe in themselves and society again. Google or Bing it, search terms: (your city) and homeless shelters. If you are in the Atlanta area, contact the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. They also have a 24-hour help line. Or the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency.

Or, at the very minimum, follow our friend Clay’s example and give them an energy bar.

Camping Out

Homelessness AtlantaThe Monday after New Year’s, a new urban camper arrived in Piedmont Park. At least, I think he was. He had all the telltale signs:

  • More stuff than he could easily carry. To survive in the urban wilderness, you have to have your hands free. Be able to eat, zip your zipper or defend yourself without putting your stuff down. He’d have to lighten his load and stash it somewhere or he’d lose it. Likely he had already made some choices on what was truly valuable and necessary in his life. He’ll need to make more.
  • Some of his stuff was in paper bags and overflowing. Paper bags don’t wear well in the weather. Once they start to tear, all in the bag will be lost. Paper bags also don’t provide much security. The extra coat he had was clearly visible. Somebody would want that. Garbage bags are the preferred choice.
  • He was carrying a heavy blanket. Logical for his 7AM and 18 degree arrival, but unworkable for long. Marked him too clearly. If you’re going to sit in a public place, you have to look like you don’t live there. Plus, once it gets wet, he’ll tire of carrying it and it will be of little use.
  • He was alone and seemed nervous about his stuff. He’ll make friends soon enough. Learn the ropes. Find out you have to have the discipline of the wild and be able to stare straight ahead for hours as if you want to be there. He had carefully set all his stuff down when he arrived and left room for others on the bench. Only a few minutes later, he’d pick it all up and walk to the street. Look back and forth and return to the bench. This repeated for hours. During the time, the blanket found a permanent home in a tree branch. One of his paper bags had been emptied by more experienced campers who apparently appealed to his generosity.

From my desk, I have seen quite a few people join the ranks of the homeless and displaced. Mostly men. Disproportionately black. Those who I have met and spoken with shared pretty similar stories of how they arrived there. Oddly, most don’t blame their fate on others. “I was just drunk and shouldn’t have swung at him.” “My wife got tired of me hanging out and threw me out.” “I did something really stupid and (fill in the blank) someone.”

In just a moment, their lives were changed. When they made a bad decision they couldn’t or wouldn’t undo. Moments we all face, and had they turned out differently, we could easily be among them. Too much to drink. Loud talk. An argument. A desperate act. A decision to break the law. Drugs. Hanging out with the wrong crowd. Wrong place at the wrong time. Booze, an argument, a fight or all three and they were separated from their families and their jobs. Once they get arrested, and most eventually will be (public drinking, urination, panhandling, loud talk, a fight, etc. get them in the system), their job opportunities are narrowed.

Others shared stories even sadder – “My little girl died and my wife and I just couldn’t handle it.”

Sure, there’s a significant percentage where mental illness is involved – bipolar and PTSD (yes, way too many of our homeless are vets) are mentioned often. Those fortunate (if that is the right word) enough to be on disability, will get a monthly chance to get off the street. But the crazy check isn’t much. Often they will share it or it will be stolen. And I dare you to try and get approved to rent a place after living on the street.

There is also way too high a percentage of our homeless who are teenagers and young adults. Beautiful young people who have their health, energy, a quick smile and all the potential America offers in front of them, but they have run away and dropped out. Frequently they’ll sell a little weed or themselves for sex to get by. The youngest among them seem to want to hang out, hear and share the stories, but more likely they are just trying to be safe from those who prey on them. Weed turns to crack or crank or heroin. And all leads to jail and narrowed chances for release.

Most are just people who did something stupid and got caught that led them to the bench outside my window. Most are good people, at least when they are sober. Most want to work, but few employers hire those with a record. Many could find help, but most of those who help the most also require drug testing and have lots of rules. Except for food stamps, most homeless people can’t get on the dole. Welfare as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore. So they just hustle and sit. Some will get to go to shelters during bad weather. During better weather, everyone has their secret place behind a house or office building.

Then there are those who just hit bad times. Couldn’t pay their house payment or rent and didn’t have any place to go. Most of those are just passing through. They’ll seek assistance. Many will get on their feet again or, at least, stay out of the system.

That same day as the new camper arrived, someone was evicted from Post Apartments on Piedmont and 10th. A Marshall supervised the dismantling of someone’s life. All of their stuff – furniture, clothing, books, family photos – everything was tossed in a pile in the parking lot. A crowd gathered to look through the new curb picks. It seemed sacred to me. I couldn’t watch for fear of getting sick and even the memory of it brings on nausea.

Post’s policy is to evict if rent for the current month is not paid by the first. I heard said of those evicted, that they had not paid December rent or responded to the letters demanding payment with the threat of eviction. I heard it said, that Post had no choice. Surely, they did. What could possibly have happened to those people that they couldn’t pay? Illness? Laid off or lost their job? Someone not pay them? A divorce? Family emergency? A death? Something seems terribly wrong.

And then, there’s the new guy in the park. I don’t know his story  yet. Hope I don’t learn it. Maybe after thinking about it, he’ll go home and say he’s sorry. Or find his mom or a sib and beg them for another chance. Get sober. Or seek out someone at a shelter to point him in a better direction.

Resources (mostly Atlanta, links – please comment and add more):

The Race for the money

Pink Products

The Business of Breast Cancer

Just look at the market: one in eight American women will get it — based on current US populations, that works out to 19,337,500 potential customers. 192,370 new customers just this year who will spend the Medicare average of $31,735, or more, to treat it.

The CDC says $7 billion was spent on treatment of diagnosed breast cancer in 2007, but that number doesn’t come close to the total amounts spent on living with it or fearing you’ll get it. Eight in eight American women (154.7 million) are aware that they could be the one in eight.

Breast cancer is a multi-billion dollar business. For every positive test, someone profits. Those companies want you to survive for as long as you possibly can pay — for every death, those who profit suffer, too. Callous as that sounds, it is true.

Here are some figures to give you an idea of the scale of the efforts towards early detection and a cure:

Research Spending:

Then there are those who wish to influence your government to either find a cure, help those who suffer or pad their profits (please note: large lobby groups do not break out their spending by initiative, specific cancer, etc., but their influence is clear):

2008 Lobby Spending:

  • National Breast Cancer Coalition: $174,619
  • Medical Equipment & Supplies: $6.3 million
  • Big Pharma: $29.2 million (not breast cancer specific)
  • Insurance: $46.8 million (all companies)
  • Health Professionals: $95.2 million

In addition to hospitals, imaging centers, physicians, surgeons, radiologists, rehab centers, hotels near treatment centers, airlines, ambulances, family counselors, book publishers, vitamin firms, alternative treatment practitioners, wig, hat and pink paraphernalia stores, here are some lists of just some of those who are sucking on the money tit.

Drugs: $36.7 billion
This is a list of annual sales of drugs used to treat breast cancer. It is just a partial list and many of these drugs are also used for other diseases. It also doesn’t begin to list the drugs and the profits required to live with the pain, suffering and side effects.

  • Femara (Letrozole): $1.1 billion (Source: 2008 Novartis Annual Report)
  • Aromasin (Exemestane): $465 million (Source: 2008 Pfizer Annual Review)
  • Arimidex (Anastrozole): $1.9 billion (Source: 2008 AstraZeneca Annual Report)
  • Tamoxifen (generic): $1.1 billion, estimate (Source: 2008 AstraZeneca Annual Report)
  • Fareston (Toremifene): $2.9 million (still in testing: Source GTx, Inc. news release)
  • Evista (Raloxifene): $1.1 billion (2007 – Source: Eli Lilly press release)
  • Herceptin (Trastuzumab): $1.4 billion (Source: Genetech web site) –  note: annual treatment expense: >$100,000
  • Lapatinib (Tykerb): $162 million (recently approved: Source: 2008 GlaxoSmithKline Annual Report)
  • Ixempra (azaepothilone B): $500 million, estimated (Source: FiercePharma.com/Bristol-Myers Squibb)
  • Xeloda (Capecitabine): $1.2 billion (Source: 2008 Roche Annual Report)
  • Aredia: $21 million (Source: Healthcare Sales & Marketing Network/Barr Pharma)
  • Pamidronate (generic): $553 million, estimate (Source: AccessMyLibrary.com)
  • Paclitaxel: $1.6 billion (Source: Bristol-Myers Squibb10-K filing)
  • Adriamycin (Doxorubicin): $550 million (Source: EvalutatePharma.com)
  • Pamidronate (Darbepoetin alfa): $550 million (now generic. Source: AccessMyLibrary.com)
  • Aranesp (Darbepoetin alfa): $4.1 billion (Source: 2006 Amgen Annual Report)
  • Epogen: $2.5 billion (Source: 2006 Amgen Annual Report)
  • Procrit/Eprex: $3.3 billion (Source: EvalutatePharma.com/Johnson & Johnson)
  • Aredia (generic/Pamidronic acid): $21 million (Source: Healthcare Sales & Marketing Network/Barr Pharma)
  • Epirubicin (generic): $68 million (Source: Healthcare Sales & Marketing Network/Teva)
  • Faslodex (Fulvestrant): $250 million  (Source: 2008 AstraZeneca Annual Report)
  • Lupron, Eligard (Leuprolide): $1.8 billion (Source: Mongabay.com/Abbott)
  • Gemzar (Gemcitabine): $1.3 billion (2005 – Source: Eli Lilly press release)
  • Neulasta (Pegfilgrastim): $3 billion (Source: EvalutatePharma.com/Amgen)
  • Neupogen (Filgrastim): $300 million (Source: AccessMyLibrary.com)
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere): $2 billion (Source: MedicalNewsToday.com/Sanofi-Aventis)
  • Vinorelbine (generic/Navelbine): $26 million (Source: EvalutatePharma.com)
  • Zoladex (Goserelin Acetate): $1.1 billion (Source: EvalutatePharma.com/AstraZeneca)
  • Zometa, Zomera, Aclasta and Reclast (Zoledronate): $1.2 billion (Source: EvalutatePharma.com/Novartis)

Mammography Equipment: $610 million (US only). Source: Global Industry Analysts, Inc.
Price range: $58,000-$76,000 each. Doesn’t include CT’s, ultrasounds, new digital breast imaging equipment, or mobile devices.

Breast Implants (not just breast cancer):

  • Allergan: $310 million (source: 2008 Annual Report)
  • Mentor Corporation (Johnson & Johnson): $328.4 million (source: Bloomberg)

Miscellaneous:

  • Breast Cancer Postage Stamps: $34.5 million (since 1998)