At Worcester vigil, voices of hope in face of addiction

WORCESTER – For an event organized to commemorate International Overdose Day, the atmosphere for a vigil Thursday night behind City Hall had a more casual feel than might be expected.

People in recovery mingled with various local agencies and service providers, music played over loudspeakers, and Cafe Reyes, a restaurant and catering service on Shrewsbury Street run by people in recovery, had snacks.

For Lisa Monteiro, who will get a coin in October to mark one year in recovery, the candlelight vigil was an opportunity to put a face on the efforts of organizations she became involved with early in her recovery, like Walking Together and Everday Miracles.

She said she followed her daughter’s lead in entering recovery, and like many people who find some success in battling addiction, she now works with those organizations to help people who are just starting their journeys.

“I believe it’s why God put me here,” Ms. Monteiro said. “To speak for people who can’t speak for themselves.”

Hundreds of people gathered on a crisp late-summer evening in the shade of City Hall as officials spoke and survivors remembered those who lost their battle with addiction. Befitting the nature of the evening, Dr. Matilde Castiel, the city’s commissioner of health and human services, prefaced her remarks by mentioning that AdCare had some beds available.

Mayor Joseph M. Petty said the city has made real progress in destigmatizing addiction, and said its Narcan trainings and clean needle exchange programs are saving lives. Every life has value, he said. District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera said it’s time for people to take a stand and support the expansion of rehabilitation services in the city.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said on average, three people overdose every day in the city; three or four people die every month. He said those numbers are unacceptable, but said the city may be turning a corner. He said this year, the city is on track to record around 1,100 overdoses. If that rate holds, 2017 could see the first decline in overdoses in the city in nine years.

At a patio table, a few people arranged votive candles before a candlelight vigil planned to cap the event. The group represented Walking Together, a community center at Main and Oread streets that serves as a place people can go to just get a cup of coffee or a bottled water, or get help getting into recovery.

Krysten DeMello helps staff the center during its peak times, from around 8 a.m. to noon most days. Fifty to 100 people will come through on any given day, she said. It has been up and running since March 2016. She said she previously worked 10 years at the former People in Peril shelter, and said she sees a lot of familiar faces.

The Rev. Meredyth Ward, an Episcopalian minister, said Walking Together is actually her ministry. She said the center gives vulnerable people a place of safety. Rev. Ward, who has been in recovery 32 years, said everyone is entitled to a sense of dignity and worth.

“We help people find that recovery if they’re seeking it, and we help keep them alive when they’re not,” she said.

Ms. Monteiro said some people in recovery might be nervous coming to an event like Thursday night’s and talking about recovery. But she said she was glad to be able to share her story of recovery with others, many of whom have done the same.

“It’s joyous,” she said. “We made it out.”