East Kensington: Committed To Change

Once a neighborhood widely known for drugs, prostitution and poverty, the culture of Kensington is changing, thanks in large part to outreach programs such as The Last Stop, which houses and rehabilitates drug addicts.

For Chris Marshall, he reached his last stop.

“I ran to the only place that I knew was safe,” said Marshall. “The drugs were becoming more of a priority than my own family.”

Chris Marshall, director of The Last Stop, is a recovering drug addict who previously completed clubhouse's program.
Chris Marshall, director of The Last Stop, is a recovering drug addict who previously completed the clubhouse’s program.

Marshall, who is the director of The Last Stop, was a resident of the rehabilitation program just a few years ago.  While in his addictive phase, Marshall and his family lost their home. Given the circumstances, they were forced to live out of a Bucks County hotel. But despite the gravity of the situation, Marshall’s drug addiction prevented him from maintaining residence at the hotel.

The family ended up having to split up, and Marshall was left with no place to go.  But his familiarity with the Kensington neighborhood sent him back.

Having heard of The Last Stop and founder Eddie Zampitella, often referred to as, “Eddie Z,” Marshall joined the program in September 2010.

“I only stayed for 18 days, though,” said Marshall. “I took Eddie’s kindness for granted, and when I got money, I got high.”

Marshall was in and out of The Last Stop over the next couple of years, each time getting closer to sobriety. But as is often the case for someone battling the demons of addiction, the habits are hard to break.

In February 2012, Marshall surrendered to police for crimes he had committed and was placed in federal prison. Once he was released on probation, Marshall was finally committed to following The Last Stop’s program.

“I knew deep down that The Last Stop would work,” said Marshall.  “I had a spiritual and psychological awakening. Within a month of being back here, I was an active part of the program, assisting Eddie in running it.”

Along with Zampitella, Marshall and his son, Nick, help maintain and run the program, which houses recovering addicts during the process. Void of any city or federal funding, The Last Stop provides a place to sleep for anyone in recovery, despite capacity.

“If The Last Stop wasn’t here, there would be a void between having no where to go and death,” said Chris Marshall. “We are helping out more people than ever. We have all of our houses up the block filled to capacity, but we still don’t turn away no one who is committed to making this change.”

Both Nick and Chris live in one of the housing areas. For Nick, he is just happy to have his dad and best friend back.

“I’ve been here for about a year,” said Nick Marshall. “I’ve gotten a chance to see how my dad has changed, and I didn’t just get back a father, I got back my best friend.”

Though he hasn’t experienced the effects of addiction, as he was never a drug user, he uses his father’s experience as a way of reaching out and persuading someone to make the change.

“I’m helping people in hopes that they don’t reach my dad’s point,” said Nick Marshall. “I tell them about what they’ll lose and what they can gain. I tell them about how my dad lost everything and how he is now going to the Community College of Philadelphia, studying Behavioral Health and Human Services.”

The names of those who have achieved sobriety, written on a wall in The Last Stop's clubhouse.
The names of those who have achieved sobriety, written on a wall in The Last Stop’s clubhouse.

Marshall is just one of the many success stories of The Last Stop. But everyday, a new addict is born, and a potential cause of drug dependency may mean just about anyone is susceptible.

According to a January 2012 National Institute on Drug Abuse report, the use of prescription opioids has increased in Philadelphia, increasing from 10 admissions in 2007 to 413 in the first half of 2011. The report goes on to suggest that people are switching over to heroin because it’s more affordable.

Dan Roth, pastor at Summerfield-Siloam United Methodist and director of Serving Kensington Avenue (SKA), a Kensington Avenue coffee house which doubles as an outreach program, agrees that the rising use of prescription drugs has people turning to harder drugs.

“A big part of drug addiction is the prescription drugs that people are taking at home,” said Roth. “But when people can’t get them through prescription anymore, they start buying drugs like heroin instead. That’s how addiction for a lot of the younger adults is happening.”

For someone who is battling drug addiction, Roth suggests that loved ones who may know of it shouldn’t stand by and watch, and he urges people to take advantage of the resources available.

“Don’t let your friend flounder,” said Roth. “There are a number of resources available that could assist you in helping your friend with his or her addiction, and there are places where someone who is battling addiction can go to get the help they need.”

Text, Images, and Video by Mark Whited

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