Pennsylvania city feels painful effects of victims of a crisis
Fox News’ Rick Leventhal looks at how the use of the drug has taken its toll in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The flight of the industry has decimated a small Pennsylvania town, and the flooding of opioids has its back against the wall and some of the men pay the price.
Reading, Pa., is a city plagued by declining education rates, rising drug-related deaths and a population mired in poverty. For many of the men, there is no opportunity or respite.
T. C. Wilson knows this battle all too well. He is a resident of Hope Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in the city. The 34-year-old is a lifelong resident of Reading and said it is a steady degradation of the quality of life in addition to upticks in violence and drug use.
“You know, I got involved with heroin and lost my job, where I worked for ten years. I was in the line of a foreman. … I just don’t care, I stopped caring about everything.”
– T. C. Wilson
“They’ve gotten worse,” Wilson said. “You can’t walk five blocks without walking into a drug dealer or an abandoned house, people break in to get high.”
Wilson, as two-third of the city’s adult residents, has only a high school diploma. That is a remarkable difference with the national 85 per cent of the young graduates. Only 8 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree, a large gap with the 28 percent that they in the country.
This gap in educational attainment often leads to inhabitants of a path of small prosperity – almost 40% of people in Reading live in poverty, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Wilson graduated high school, but not without his share of struggles. At 15 years old, he said that he was kicked out of his house by his mother over money disputes.
“They had a lot of money problems,” he said. “And I was paying rent at the time of the jobs that I was working with. … And money was not going in the direction of what I gave her to go in the direction, and so I stopped giving her money.”
This sense of apathy pervades many in the state, where suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in the age group 25 to 32. On average, one person dies every five hours on average in Pennsylvania.
– American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Despite the hand he was dealt, Wilson to continue. He graduated in 2002, after working in a series of jobs at Walmart, a nursing home, and a paperboy. Almost ten years later, in 2011, Wilson was engaged to a woman when he returned home to find her dead of a cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the bathroom.
“When I came home from work, you know, I had to find her as she was,” he said. “And, to be honest, it kind of destroyed me. It still hurts.”
Her death sent him into a spiral of drug use and bad decisions. Wilson escaped to his addiction with his life, a stroke of luck a lot in Reading will not be received. In 2016, more than 4,500 died from drug-related overdoses, an increase of 37 percent compared to a year earlier, according to a Drug Enforcement Agency analysis.
T. C. Wilson is a lifelong resident of Reading and said it is a steady degradation of the quality of life in addition to upticks in violence and drug use.
More than 13 people were dying every day from overdoses, the vast majority of opioids.
“That took me directly to the prison after a few years,” Wilson said. “You know, I got involved with heroin and lost my job, where I worked for ten years. I was in the line of a foreman. … I just don’t care, I stopped caring about everything.”
This sense of apathy pervades many in the state, where suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in the age group 25 to 32. On average, one person dies every five hours on average in Pennsylvania, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Wilson would eventually find love again and got engaged to a woman by the name of Megan. They have a daughter together, who was six months old when they were both put in prison.
“I came home from work, and she was dead in the bathroom. She collapsed while I was at work, and my 3-year-old daughter was alone at home with her for two hours.”
– T. C. Wilson
He was located on the bottom of the pit when his daughter was in the system, while he served eight months in prison. He went to a rehab and a sober living facility in the vicinity of Philadelphia, about everything, Wilson promised to get his daughter back.
Eventually, after he said that, he jumped through every hoop the court set for him, he received full parental rights. Wilson said that it was important to his daughter being raised by her parents, a privilege that he was never given.
“I did not even know who my father was,” Wilson said. “I’m named after someone who is not of my father. … I don’t want my daughter to know who her father was.”
Wilson was actively working to self-set up for success, even plans to buy his grandmother’s house after she passed away. It went well with his fiance; then the unthinkable happened again.
Wilson says that he hopes that he is a full-time father to his daughter quickly.
“I came home from work, and she was dead in the bathroom,” he said. “She collapsed while I was at work, and my 3-year-old daughter was alone at home with her for two hours. I don’t even know how to explain that feeling, as soon as it is already difficult enough.”
The hits kept coming after his fiance’s death; Wilson’s car stopped working, and he promptly lost the job that he obtained through a temporary employment agency. He had no other choice, but to ask his sister to be with his daughter while he checked himself into the Hope Rescue Mission, a local homeless shelter.
“A lot of times that we have to deal with people in addiction, people who are raised in families where, you know, in function of behavior can not be modeled,” Frank Grill, director of the Hope Rescue Mission, said. “So you’re trying to the kind of change that heart sets and ways of thinking of the people that come through here.”
“I can’t even put into words, as between the guidance that the staff has given me, the confidence they give me, the opportunities they have given me – it is sometimes overwhelming”
– T. C. Wilson
The faith-based organization has two primary functions: a place for poor people to stay for a night shelter, and a long-term home for those who want to join their “discipleship” program to find a job and eventually a place of their own. Wilson is eight months in the second.
A leader in the shelter, Wilson works two jobs in addition to security detail. He said he hopes to be stable and find a home to move into quickly. More importantly, he hopes to have a full-time father to his daughter quickly. Hope Rescue Mission has proven to be a buoy to men as Wilson, swaying in the life of the waters.
“I can’t even put into words, as between the guidance that the staff has given me, the confidence they give me, the opportunities they have given me – it’s overwhelming sometimes,” he said. “Because the climb of 19 steps, you will feel broken.”