Charles Preston
Dec 4, 2017 · 4 min read

Hey, folks. I, Charles Preston, reporting fellow for City Bureau, would like to tell you all about a magical silver truck that you can find throughout Chicago.

(All photos by Sebastián Hildago)

My reporting team is investigating the impact of the Illinois budget impasse on mental and behavioral health organizations through the lens of the opioid crisis. Our reporting has led us to Chicago Recovery Alliance, an organization that has been servicing heroin users since 2001. As part of its “harm reduction” mission, Chicago Recovery Alliance educates people and offers various services at various locations with its mobile unit — that magical silver truck.

Sebastián Hidalgo, City’s Bureau’s Fall Photography Fellow, accompanied me on a trip to 47th and Vincennes. There, CRA’s truck is parked facing east, every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Cheryl, a middle-aged staff member with short white hair and a warm smile, happily welcomed us aboard the truck. She offered us a tour of the unit and detailed her experiences with users. Cheryl disclosed to us that her brother’s death from heroin overdose inspires her work with users.

CRA follows a philosophy called harm reduction. That means that the organization accepts that drug use will happen and believes the best way to address it is by minimizing the harm done to users and society. Rather than focusing on complete abstinence, they teach drug users how to use safely (to minimize overdose and disease) and believe that any positive change for a user is another step on the road of recovery. By meeting users at their level of addiction with education on how to safely use, they save lives. The photo above illustrates how to use drugs safely in order to prevent infection and instant death. For example, the diagram with the subject injecting with a needle displays the safest places to inject on the body.

The truck is stocked with a huge amount of needles and syringes. CRA is not a needle exchange program, where users trade a dirty a needle and syringe for clean ones. No, CRA tells users to freely take the number of supplies they think they will need — no matter the number. This prevents needle sharing, which can spread infection and disease, like AIDS and Hepatitis. The red bucket above is known as “the dirty bucket.” This is where users drop off used needles and syringes. When Cheryl does not have access to the mobile unit, she will drive her own car around with “the dirty bucket” on top of her car for people know she is there.

Tea candles or votive candles are used as a light source or as a plate to hold heroin for needle extraction. CRA provides clean new votives in order to prevent users from reusing votives that are potentially contaminated.

Cheryl told me about the services CRA offers, and asked me to take one of these cards. In addition to its educational services, CRA administers medicine in case of overdose and acknowledges the relationship between STDs and drug use by offering free condoms and HIV testing.

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Charles Preston

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Roseland’s brain child.

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