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Man travels Chicago exhibiting different addicts that it’s attainable to get and keep clear


A person with a shaggy beard and an “I get up superior” T-shirt sat on a plastic chair within the shade of a pair of locust bushes.

A dusty flat-screen TV, a fridge and a window AC unit cluttered the filth outdoors his tent.

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“Good morning, buddy. The way you doing?” mentioned an approaching stranger.

Michael Ferguson, the brand new arrival, reduce to the chase, asking the homeless man if he has an alcohol drawback.

“In my view or my physician’s?” mentioned the opposite man, whose identify is Frank.

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A half dozen cans of Icehouse beer littered the seat of Frank’s walker.

“They’re for a celebration developing,” Frank mentioned.

The cans have been all open.

Ferguson is a neighborhood outreach employee. Someday final week he was traipsing throughout the Uptown lakefront, not removed from the place a gaggle of homeless folks and their supporters had been protesting the constructing of a luxurious high-rise — and complaining they have been about to be booted from parkland to make manner for a nature sanctuary.

“I don’t know nothing a couple of sanctuary. I simply need them to get off medication,” Ferguson mentioned.

Ferguson has brief, wise hair and an immaculately trimmed beard. His enamel gleam. His stomach bulges in opposition to a black polo shirt.

A look at his legs affords a fuller story: The pores and skin is blotchy with pink scars, a reminder of his earlier than life. He spent 12 years homeless, a lot of it within the shadows of Decrease Wacker Drive.

Ferguson should promote his story to cautious would-be prospects, and he covers a number of floor — as much as 300 miles in per week. So his life story spills out like a two-minute elevator pitch: Sixteen years as a carpenter earlier than he bought injured and have become hooked on ache meds, then heroin and crack cocaine. His brushes with dying — too many to rely. The time a drug seller smacked him within the mouth with a pistol, knocking out six enamel. He scrolled via snapshots on his telephone: the metallic plates and screws holding his jaws collectively, a pouch full of needles, an X-ray of the titanium hip alternative he wanted after a bone an infection attributable to taking pictures up and repeatedly lacking the vein.

And but, Ferguson, 40, was actually solely scratching the floor.

So he doesn’t overlook, Ferguson retains {a photograph} of his bedraggled, emaciated self in his twenty sixth and State Avenue workplace; in it, he’s holding a cardboard signal that reads: “Hungry as F—.”

A pouch of needles Michael Ferguson used to inject heroin in his days living on the streets in Chicago.

A pouch of needles Michael Ferguson used to inject heroin in his days dwelling on the streets in Chicago.

“Since you would by no means think about that that would have been him,” mentioned Maria Bruni, Ferguson’s boss and senior vice chairman at Household Steerage Facilities Inc., a behavioral well being clinic with 12 areas in Illinois.

Ferguson has been clear for 3 years and eight months — and on the job with Household Steerage for about three months.

It’s as if Ferguson has risen from the lifeless — and he can’t fairly imagine it. Final yr, he attended a gala fundraiser at Above and Past Household Restoration Middle on the West Aspect, which Ferguson credit for lastly serving to him give up medication. He wore a tuxedo.

“How a lot did you donate, sir?” he remembered a fellow attendee asking him. “Are you a diamond or a gold member? I’m like, ‘I’m not a donor, I’m a drug addict.’”

However he doesn’t use any longer.

“I don’t need the results that come together with it: being homeless, dying,” he mentioned. And he likes with the ability to see his three children; the youngest was 2 when Ferguson tumbled into road life.

Michael Ferguson spent 12 years living on the streets, much of it downtown.

Michael Ferguson spent 12 years dwelling on the streets, a lot of it downtown.

It’s Ferguson’s transformation — and his means to speak the language of these needing assist — that makes him so invaluable.

“His lived expertise and his understanding of substance abuse dysfunction make him extremely empathetic with others who’re struggling,” Bruni mentioned. “He actually understands find out how to have interaction with folks.”

Dan Hostetler, the manager director at Above and Past, described Ferguson as an “icon.” Ferguson spent two years on the middle.

“When he bought right here, he was pores and skin and bones. He was in fairly dangerous form,” Hostetler mentioned. After counseling “he’s a sort of mannequin of what anyone may grow to be and we use him as an icon on a regular basis as a result of he got here in right here as damaged as anybody we’ve ever seen.”

Michael Ferguson spent 12 years homeless, sleeping much of the time on Lower Wacker Drive.

Michael Ferguson spent 12 years homeless, sleeping a lot of the time on Decrease Wacker Drive.

Frank, the homeless man sitting within the shade, eyed Ferguson warily at first. Then his gaze drifted to Ferguson’s legs. Ferguson reeled off all of the miseries he endured as a drug addict.

“I can get you into detox,” Ferguson mentioned.

Frank dismissed the suggestion, saying he’d tried all of it earlier than.

Ferguson requested Frank if he’s ever tried Vivitrol, an injectable medication for alcohol dependence.

Frank shook his head.

“You’ll be throwing up and s—-ing your self if you happen to drink [alcohol] on the Vivitrol shot,” Ferguson mentioned.

However the remedy works, Ferguson added.

Ferguson left a enterprise card. Frank wished to maintain speaking. However Ferguson is aware of when to stroll away. He was fairly certain Frank wouldn’t take him up on his supply.

“Take a look at his purple face. He’s been swigging that s— so lengthy, it’s popping out of his pores,” Ferguson mentioned when he was out of earshot.

And apart from, Ferguson had heaps extra folks to see.

“You’ve bought to maintain it reduce and dried,” he mentioned, “as a result of there are folks on the market who actually need assistance.”


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