This past Sunday, I was grateful to be able to participate in the Adult Forum led by April Smith, “Addiction: Formulating a Faithful Response.” I enjoyed the conversation around our personal experiences, our misconceptions, and proper ways to support people who live with addiction. When April opened up the room to discussion, a flood of frustrated stories poured into the room. It was clear that many people at Old First are concerned and even outraged over the brokenness of our healthcare system.
Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a serious health concern that affects almost all of us in some way, whether we ourselves live with addiction or whether it is our friends or loved ones.
How to support people who struggle with addiction is also an important question for Old First’s Outreach ministries. A number of the men who stay with us in our Winter Shelter have lived with addiction. Frequently the folks who show up on Saturday mornings or who stay in the Winter Shelter also attend the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that happens in the church every morning. While myself and many others have some experience dealing and working with people who have addictions, overall our programs are not designed to provide transformative care and support.
A growing body of evidence says that addiction has much to do with the environment and community in which a person lives. April informed us that around 10% of people who try a substance end up chemically addicted, and that a lot of drug addiction occurs from a lack of other options. A lack of compassionate addiction treatment programs that actually understand what people need to heal themselves is a problem that magnifies homelessness in Philadelphia.
One of the things I’ve learned in the past few months is that Old First has a rich legacy of many different Outreach programs, from after-school and summer programs for youth to a food pantry to a youth hostel. Our Outreach programs have always been acts of bravery and creativity, programs that seek to address the needs we see and seek to answer Jesus’ command: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
As we continue to move forward and consider potential changes to our Outreach work (especially as we consider changes to our buildings), I hope we will continue to keep in mind this need. We may not develop programs in this direction (we currently don’t have that capacity), but I believe that a faithful response to addiction is an important part of Old First’s call to support those in need.
– John Bergen, Outreach Minister