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People traveled from Puerto Rico Mayors say it's necessary because treatment facilities are sparse on the fiscally cratered island, and that they owe their citizens a chance to end their distress. In many cases, island municipalities themselves pay the one-way airfare to Philadelphia.

Once in Philadelphia, the drug users, who are overwhelmingly young men, are funneled into so-called recovery houses where they complain that pastors belittle them in rants imbued with religious overtones. Such confrontational therapy, said Carmen Albizu, a physician and a public-health professor at the University of Puerto Rico, is ineffective, harmful, and perverse. Air Bridge has flourished for years, mostly hidden, in a dismal push-pull dynamic in which addicts are shoved off the island, then grabbed by Pennsylvania importers bent on personal profit, said Roberto Abadie, a anthropologist from the University of Nebraska.

Abadie and others say the ministers who run recovery houses cash in on addicts' benefits, such as food stamps, and generate money by referring them to drug-treatment centers for group therapy. No state or city agency monitors what's going on in the majority of the estimated recovery houses in Kensington and Frankford — where about half the recovery houses in the entire city are clustered.

They are unlicensed and unregulated. Legally, they are private homes that officials can't enter without invitation, said Fred Way, executive director of the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences, a nonprofit headquartered in Frankford that evaluates recovery support.

But under proposed legislation, only the houses throughout the state and city that accept government money would be monitored — a vast minority, according to records. For example, just 21 houses in Philadelphia get city money. And that doesn't address Air Bridge, so widely unknown that William Stauffer, who heads the state task force, had believed the practice was an "urban legend," said Jason Snyder, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Stauffer, who is executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy agency in Harrisburg, did not return phone calls. Municipalities figure they only have to spend a few hundred dollars in airfare to save thousands in the costs of drug rehabilitation — which often fails — or incarceration, he added. But nothing was nice there, he said. Last winter, managers in the house forced him to work clearing snow from properties in the neighborhood, then took half the cash he earned.

Management takes only 25 percent of clients' earnings, he said. Aquino eventually left the house, unable to coexist with its operators. He's now homeless and wanders daily around Kip and Cambria streets in Fairhill, thinking of ways to afford the nickel bags of heroin his body craves. He'd told his family he needed cash to return to the island, he said, "but they don't want to hear about any more of my problems. Department of Agriculture, which regulates food stamps, now known as SNAP benefits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , says it's permissible for a drug-recovery house to require patients to sign over their benefits, as long as the house is providing food.

Too often, the operators of these houses will sell SNAP benefits at a discount to unscrupulous store owners and pocket the money, said Elvis Rosado, a coordinator at Prevention Point Philadelphia, a needle-exchange nonprofit that aids addicts in Kensington. Rosado and his boss, executive director Jose Benitez, have worked with Air Bridge victims for years, in some cases rescuing them from virtual incarceration in recovery houses and helping them return to Puerto Rico.

Along with rents and fees, recovery-house residents must also turn over any Medicaid benefits or Social Security disability payments they are entitled to receive. Finally, they have to surrender all forms of identification such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, and driver's licenses to discourage the men from leaving, and for the recovery house to retain control over them, said advocates familiar with the system. Others profit from the addicts' condition.

Rosado said many men in Philadelphia recovery houses are ferried for an hour or so a day, three days a week, to nearby drug-treatment centers. Such places pay the recovery-house operators weekly stipends — "kickbacks," some charge — that can amount to thousands of dollars for dubious group therapy, said Chris Marshall, director of Last Stop Sobriety, a well-thought-of residential center in Kensington.

The treatment centers are reimbursed by insurance companies, Marshall said. Expected to swear off heroin cold turkey, many of the addicts never get the methadone or buprenorphine that can help them, Benitez said.

One thing that drug-dependent, homesick addicts stuck in inadequate recovery facilities will nearly always do is find more narcotics. That's especially true in Kensington, considered by law enforcement officials to be the largest open-air drug market on the East Coast. It's hard to stay clean when your recovery house and your drug dealer are on the same corner.

If addicts get kicked out, or flee their recovery houses, they are often not given back their IDs, said Angel Gonzalez, a physician and former addictions expert for the Puerto Rican government who has investigated Air Bridge both on the island and in Philadelphia.

The process, he said, creates a population of homeless men stripped of their identification, marooned in Philadelphia. City figures show that the total number of homeless people in Kensington rose from in to this year. Those numbers include suburbanites who move into the neighborhood after getting hooked on drugs. But there is no census of Air Bridge victims.

These poor people came up here looking for something they need. And, other experts declared, having fewer addicts around enhances the appeal of the island for tourists, on whom its economy depends. Puerto Rican officials don't believe that addicts are poorly treated on the mainland.

She said the city no longer exports to Philadelphia, but that everyone who had gone "is doing well. Some Philadelphia police officials are aware of it, but "with murders and shootings to take care of, it's just not on my radar," said Capt.

Michael Cram of the 25th District. Slowly, however, pressure is building to address the exportation of Puerto Rico's addicts on a broad level. Officials from the U. It began its probe after reports last year on WBEZ. Chicago officials are trying to determine whether the one-way plane tickets given to addicts are being paid for with federal dollars issued by the U. Department of Housing and Urban Development for helping the homeless.

Puerto Rico is a U. The sheriff's office laid out its case in a letter to the HUD Inspector General's office, requesting an investigation. Sheriff's officials added that the Puerto Rican state police conduct a program called Vuelta A La Vida Return to Life that shuttles island addicts to the mainland.

It sent people from six island cities to Philadelphia between and , documents from the Chicago sheriff's office show. The count, experts say, does not include drug users sent here by mayors, ministers, and the municipal police. Officials for state and municipal police departments in Puerto Rico declined repeated requests for comment. Advocates who have worked closely with the victims of Air Bridge are angry, and at a loss for remedies.

The attitude, Torruella said, is, "you take our Puerto Ricans [as] taxpayers foot the bill. Dressed in a soccer shirt on a recent casual Friday, the mayor sat beside his wife, Diana, a retired social worker who works, gratis, for the city.

This summer, Philadelphia Councilwoman Maria D. Many recovery houses fall within her district. Rivera said that ministers from Philadelphia visited the island to offer the services of their recovery houses.

He said he was never paid by the ministers to supply patients. In a year period he'd sent 30 addicts to Philadelphia, he said, though advocates on the island and the mainland say he's dispatched many more. Rivera said the city stopped exporting addicts two years ago.

Told that Fajardo addicts have faced severe hardships in Philadelphia, Rivera expressed surprise: Rivera said he never saw any such letters. One of his wife's friends, Yesenia Pereira, said that after she lost her right arm in a car crash on the island in , she turned to heroin to blunt the pain and became addicted. People in the mayor's office then "told me to go to Philadelphia," Pereira said through a translator. They said I would get help, and an apartment and a job. Sent to a since-shuttered recovery house in Kensington in , Pereira, 43, said she was screamed at daily by the pastor who ran the place.

Pereira said she was made to sign over her food stamps and was locked up with eight other women whose IDs were taken. There was no therapy, let alone a job. And the women could never leave.

After three of her friends ran away and became homeless in Kensington, Pereira said she begged her mother to bring her back to Fajardo, which she eventually did. The other women, meanwhile, died of overdoses, Pereira said. Upon her return home, Pereira sought out Diana Rivera and told her, "You need to investigate Philadelphia a little better," Pereira recalled.

And everybody believes in me. A registered nurse, Morales, 37, visits three times a week on her own time to deliver food and water, and to clean people's wounds. It is, she said, the end product of Air Bridge.

He'd become a heroin addict, unraveling somewhere in Philadelphia. Scared but dutiful, she forced herself to go. Within a week she found her brother, Alvin — "robbing, fighting, using drugs. She put herself through school and became a registered nurse, all while fighting ovarian, cervical, and breast cancers.

One of her daughters is studying paleontology in college, another is majoring in social work. Though Alvin Morales came here on his own, without Air Bridge, his sister said the practice had weighed on her mind, especially after hearing of many victims who wind up living rough and uncovered at Second and Indiana Streets. Morales became a guardian angel, of sorts.

She found out through friends that Percida Ramos' son, Aldarondo, had been suffering in Kensington. She started asking questions and searching for the young man from Aguadilla. Said his mother, "Charito is the only one helping him. Poor people, mostly from Puerto Rico, began moving in. For years, people have been buying cheap houses for tens of thousands of dollars, and have set them up as places to house addicts, said Philippe Bourgois, a former Penn anthropologist who lived in Kensington to study drug dealing.

The recovery houses are a "Wild West entrepreneurial dynamic," he added. Fred Way of the recovery house alliance said many residents of the area inherit houses and call him daily to ask how they can start a recovery house for Puerto Rican addicts.

Advocates say the houses seem to have developed as the drug trade in the area spiked. Predatory recovery houses also have flourished, experts say, because Philadelphia is known for having good, legitimate drug-treatment facilities overall. The houses take advantage of that reputation.

Rogue recovery houses "are unethical, people are being harmed, and that's not what we want," said Arthur C. Still, aside from suggesting to a house operator how he could he could learn to run his place properly, Evans and his department can do little about that.

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Puerto rico women sex videos

People traveled from Puerto Rico Mayors say it's necessary because treatment facilities are sparse on the fiscally cratered island, and that they owe their citizens a chance to end their distress. In many cases, island municipalities themselves pay the one-way airfare to Philadelphia. Once in Philadelphia, the drug users, who are overwhelmingly young men, are funneled into so-called recovery houses where they complain that pastors belittle them in rants imbued with religious overtones.

Such confrontational therapy, said Carmen Albizu, a physician and a public-health professor at the University of Puerto Rico, is ineffective, harmful, and perverse. Air Bridge has flourished for years, mostly hidden, in a dismal push-pull dynamic in which addicts are shoved off the island, then grabbed by Pennsylvania importers bent on personal profit, said Roberto Abadie, a anthropologist from the University of Nebraska.

Abadie and others say the ministers who run recovery houses cash in on addicts' benefits, such as food stamps, and generate money by referring them to drug-treatment centers for group therapy. No state or city agency monitors what's going on in the majority of the estimated recovery houses in Kensington and Frankford — where about half the recovery houses in the entire city are clustered.

They are unlicensed and unregulated. Legally, they are private homes that officials can't enter without invitation, said Fred Way, executive director of the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences, a nonprofit headquartered in Frankford that evaluates recovery support. But under proposed legislation, only the houses throughout the state and city that accept government money would be monitored — a vast minority, according to records.

For example, just 21 houses in Philadelphia get city money. And that doesn't address Air Bridge, so widely unknown that William Stauffer, who heads the state task force, had believed the practice was an "urban legend," said Jason Snyder, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Stauffer, who is executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy agency in Harrisburg, did not return phone calls. Municipalities figure they only have to spend a few hundred dollars in airfare to save thousands in the costs of drug rehabilitation — which often fails — or incarceration, he added. But nothing was nice there, he said. Last winter, managers in the house forced him to work clearing snow from properties in the neighborhood, then took half the cash he earned.

Management takes only 25 percent of clients' earnings, he said. Aquino eventually left the house, unable to coexist with its operators. He's now homeless and wanders daily around Kip and Cambria streets in Fairhill, thinking of ways to afford the nickel bags of heroin his body craves. He'd told his family he needed cash to return to the island, he said, "but they don't want to hear about any more of my problems.

Department of Agriculture, which regulates food stamps, now known as SNAP benefits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , says it's permissible for a drug-recovery house to require patients to sign over their benefits, as long as the house is providing food. Too often, the operators of these houses will sell SNAP benefits at a discount to unscrupulous store owners and pocket the money, said Elvis Rosado, a coordinator at Prevention Point Philadelphia, a needle-exchange nonprofit that aids addicts in Kensington.

Rosado and his boss, executive director Jose Benitez, have worked with Air Bridge victims for years, in some cases rescuing them from virtual incarceration in recovery houses and helping them return to Puerto Rico. Along with rents and fees, recovery-house residents must also turn over any Medicaid benefits or Social Security disability payments they are entitled to receive.

Finally, they have to surrender all forms of identification such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, and driver's licenses to discourage the men from leaving, and for the recovery house to retain control over them, said advocates familiar with the system. Others profit from the addicts' condition. Rosado said many men in Philadelphia recovery houses are ferried for an hour or so a day, three days a week, to nearby drug-treatment centers.

Such places pay the recovery-house operators weekly stipends — "kickbacks," some charge — that can amount to thousands of dollars for dubious group therapy, said Chris Marshall, director of Last Stop Sobriety, a well-thought-of residential center in Kensington. The treatment centers are reimbursed by insurance companies, Marshall said.

Expected to swear off heroin cold turkey, many of the addicts never get the methadone or buprenorphine that can help them, Benitez said. One thing that drug-dependent, homesick addicts stuck in inadequate recovery facilities will nearly always do is find more narcotics. That's especially true in Kensington, considered by law enforcement officials to be the largest open-air drug market on the East Coast.

It's hard to stay clean when your recovery house and your drug dealer are on the same corner. If addicts get kicked out, or flee their recovery houses, they are often not given back their IDs, said Angel Gonzalez, a physician and former addictions expert for the Puerto Rican government who has investigated Air Bridge both on the island and in Philadelphia.

The process, he said, creates a population of homeless men stripped of their identification, marooned in Philadelphia. City figures show that the total number of homeless people in Kensington rose from in to this year. Those numbers include suburbanites who move into the neighborhood after getting hooked on drugs. But there is no census of Air Bridge victims. These poor people came up here looking for something they need.

And, other experts declared, having fewer addicts around enhances the appeal of the island for tourists, on whom its economy depends. Puerto Rican officials don't believe that addicts are poorly treated on the mainland.

She said the city no longer exports to Philadelphia, but that everyone who had gone "is doing well. Some Philadelphia police officials are aware of it, but "with murders and shootings to take care of, it's just not on my radar," said Capt.

Michael Cram of the 25th District. Slowly, however, pressure is building to address the exportation of Puerto Rico's addicts on a broad level.

Officials from the U. It began its probe after reports last year on WBEZ. Chicago officials are trying to determine whether the one-way plane tickets given to addicts are being paid for with federal dollars issued by the U. Department of Housing and Urban Development for helping the homeless.

Puerto Rico is a U. The sheriff's office laid out its case in a letter to the HUD Inspector General's office, requesting an investigation. Sheriff's officials added that the Puerto Rican state police conduct a program called Vuelta A La Vida Return to Life that shuttles island addicts to the mainland.

It sent people from six island cities to Philadelphia between and , documents from the Chicago sheriff's office show. The count, experts say, does not include drug users sent here by mayors, ministers, and the municipal police. Officials for state and municipal police departments in Puerto Rico declined repeated requests for comment.

Advocates who have worked closely with the victims of Air Bridge are angry, and at a loss for remedies. The attitude, Torruella said, is, "you take our Puerto Ricans [as] taxpayers foot the bill. Dressed in a soccer shirt on a recent casual Friday, the mayor sat beside his wife, Diana, a retired social worker who works, gratis, for the city. This summer, Philadelphia Councilwoman Maria D. Many recovery houses fall within her district.

Rivera said that ministers from Philadelphia visited the island to offer the services of their recovery houses. He said he was never paid by the ministers to supply patients. In a year period he'd sent 30 addicts to Philadelphia, he said, though advocates on the island and the mainland say he's dispatched many more. Rivera said the city stopped exporting addicts two years ago.

Told that Fajardo addicts have faced severe hardships in Philadelphia, Rivera expressed surprise: Rivera said he never saw any such letters. One of his wife's friends, Yesenia Pereira, said that after she lost her right arm in a car crash on the island in , she turned to heroin to blunt the pain and became addicted.

People in the mayor's office then "told me to go to Philadelphia," Pereira said through a translator. They said I would get help, and an apartment and a job. Sent to a since-shuttered recovery house in Kensington in , Pereira, 43, said she was screamed at daily by the pastor who ran the place. Pereira said she was made to sign over her food stamps and was locked up with eight other women whose IDs were taken. There was no therapy, let alone a job. And the women could never leave.

After three of her friends ran away and became homeless in Kensington, Pereira said she begged her mother to bring her back to Fajardo, which she eventually did. The other women, meanwhile, died of overdoses, Pereira said. Upon her return home, Pereira sought out Diana Rivera and told her, "You need to investigate Philadelphia a little better," Pereira recalled. And everybody believes in me. A registered nurse, Morales, 37, visits three times a week on her own time to deliver food and water, and to clean people's wounds.

It is, she said, the end product of Air Bridge. He'd become a heroin addict, unraveling somewhere in Philadelphia. Scared but dutiful, she forced herself to go. Within a week she found her brother, Alvin — "robbing, fighting, using drugs.

She put herself through school and became a registered nurse, all while fighting ovarian, cervical, and breast cancers. One of her daughters is studying paleontology in college, another is majoring in social work. Though Alvin Morales came here on his own, without Air Bridge, his sister said the practice had weighed on her mind, especially after hearing of many victims who wind up living rough and uncovered at Second and Indiana Streets.

Morales became a guardian angel, of sorts. She found out through friends that Percida Ramos' son, Aldarondo, had been suffering in Kensington. She started asking questions and searching for the young man from Aguadilla. Said his mother, "Charito is the only one helping him. Poor people, mostly from Puerto Rico, began moving in. For years, people have been buying cheap houses for tens of thousands of dollars, and have set them up as places to house addicts, said Philippe Bourgois, a former Penn anthropologist who lived in Kensington to study drug dealing.

The recovery houses are a "Wild West entrepreneurial dynamic," he added. Fred Way of the recovery house alliance said many residents of the area inherit houses and call him daily to ask how they can start a recovery house for Puerto Rican addicts.

Advocates say the houses seem to have developed as the drug trade in the area spiked. Predatory recovery houses also have flourished, experts say, because Philadelphia is known for having good, legitimate drug-treatment facilities overall.

The houses take advantage of that reputation. Rogue recovery houses "are unethical, people are being harmed, and that's not what we want," said Arthur C. Still, aside from suggesting to a house operator how he could he could learn to run his place properly, Evans and his department can do little about that.

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5 Comments

  1. After three of her friends ran away and became homeless in Kensington, Pereira said she begged her mother to bring her back to Fajardo, which she eventually did.

  2. Predatory recovery houses also have flourished, experts say, because Philadelphia is known for having good, legitimate drug-treatment facilities overall.

  3. It's hard to stay clean when your recovery house and your drug dealer are on the same corner. She put herself through school and became a registered nurse, all while fighting ovarian, cervical, and breast cancers. A Girard psychological assessment of Aldarondo after he'd lived around five months at Soldiers of the Lord described him as "helpless, hopeless, and powerless.

  4. Those numbers include suburbanites who move into the neighborhood after getting hooked on drugs.

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