The Recovery Diaries

Underneath the El at Kensington and Lehigh avenues, the people experiencing homelessness who sleep in tents, on couches and mattresses, are human. They’re someone’s brother, sister, son or daughter. They may be someone’s mother or father.

The City of Philadelphia is giving those under the El until May 30 to find a new home, almost a year after the city forced people in similar situations out of housing structures along the Conrail train tracks in Fairhill.

There’s a sense of shock value people experience when they drive past the tents in Kensington, and see people use drugs openly across the street from a playground. But what can get lost in the rubbernecking and in the city’s efforts to resolve this problem — is that individuals living in the encampments should be defined by more than just their addiction.

I spoke to four people at different stages of their recovery to tell their own stories, rather than have someone else tell them. I hope these recovery diaries can help Philadelphians understand why addiction happens, and how we can be more empathetic toward those currently being affected by outdated public policy.

Megan McAllister poses for a portrait in her office at Prevention Point in Kensington. PHOTO BY SYDNEY SCHAEFER

I. Megan McAllister, 34, Tacony

Harry Zelnick poses for a portrait in his Manayunk home. PHOTO BY SYDNEY SCHAEFER

II. Harry Zelnick, 30, Manayunk

Ken Patterson poses for a portrait on his front steps in Point Breeze. PHOTO BY SYDNEY SCHAEFER

III. Ken Patterson, 44, Point Breeze

Ramon Cruz poses for a portrait at the DBHIDS office. PHOTO BY SYDNEY SCHAEFER

IV. Ramon Cruz, 50, Kensington

Music credit: Chris Zabriskie, Podington Bear, and P C III