Editor: This story was reported by WBEZ 91.5, public radio in Chicago and is written for radio.
It all started about a year ago when I began noticing more homeless men in the Chicago neighborhood where I work. Back of the Yards is a community that faces some of the city’s toughest problems: joblessness, crime, drug use.
Many of these men would be sitting in doorways or shuffling along, many times asking for money.
One day, I asked one of them: “Where are you from?” He told me a story that I later heard again and again and again.
The men told me they were from Puerto Rico. They were addicted to heroin and they ended up in Chicago because someone in Puerto Rico drove them to the airport and put them on a plane with a one-way ticket to Chicago.
They were promised a great rehab place, with over-the-top services and plenty of medical staff. One of them is Angel, a short and dark-skinned man. He’s missing most of his top teeth. He said he came to Chicago from Puerto Rico seven years ago for help kicking a heroin addiction.
‘I no see nothing’
“Somebody told my family is one rehab in Chicago got nurse, got pool, got medication, when I get here I no see nothing,” he said.
Angel said that when he landed in Chicago he was met at the airport and taken to a place that definitely had no pool. That place didn’t have social workers or doctors. Instead, it was just a rundown building with other addicts trying to stay clean, sleeping on dirty mattresses on the floor, going cold turkey.
Other guys told me something that was hard to believe. They said that it was the police in Puerto Rico who had driven them to the airport and put them on the plane to Chicago.
And the one-way plane ticket? Some of the men said if someone didn’t have the resources to travel, their mayor or some other local official would help buy them a ticket.
I have been a journalist in this neighborhood for five years and I couldn’t believe this was happening here, right outside my door.
I wanted to find more people in this situation. I had seen all these men on the streets before, selling lotions, batteries or socks around 47th Street. It turned out, many of them were also from Puerto Rico.
In just a few months, I met 23 Puerto Ricans with similar stories.
Has anyone else heard these stories?
I needed to figure out who else knew about this. I called homeless organizations, shelters, official drug rehab centers, local aldermen, drug policy experts, but no one had heard about what all these guys were describing to me.
Until I talked to Jose Alvarez. He has been working with injection drug users in Chicago for 11 years and he’d heard the same story I had, from users in Humboldt Park.
“They were thinking they were going to have their own room, a nice warm place in the winter,” Alvarez said. “A couple of them even said that some of these places had pools.”
To read full story: http://www.wbez.org/news/puerto-rico-exports-its-drug-addicts-chicago-111852