Health & Wellness

On Heroin and Homeless in New Brunswick

6b6f3cb4ad2826c28ff2_IMG_20170223_164843.jpg
Chelline and Rick pose near the intersection of Commercial Avenue and George Street in New Brunswick. They're addicted to heroin and have been homeless since early January.
6b6f3cb4ad2826c28ff2_IMG_20170223_164843.jpg

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Chelline and Rick were robbed at knifepoint around 8:30 a.m. on a weekday morning.

The robbery occurred two weeks ago on Joyce Kilmer Avenue, near New Street. Chelline was punched three times, breaking her nose, before she ran to get help from officers in the nearby family courthouse. Rick, now with staples in his stomach, took a beating that landed him in the hospital for a couple of weeks.

“I blacked out for a minute, but I’m all right,” Chelline tells TAPinto New Brunswick as Rick asks drivers in rush-hour traffic on Commercial Avenue for a few spare bucks. “It’s scary because I don’t know if the guy who did it is gonna come again.”

Sign Up for E-News

The attack was the first time anything that serious had happened to the couple—besides their shared heroin addiction.

That has cost them almost everything but the engagement ring on Chelline’s finger. Their apartment? Gone. Rick’s job as an electrician? Maybe he’ll find a new one, someday. Access to Chelline’s 7-year-old son, a big fan of wrestling and boxing? Not now.

Instead, they have the streets. Chelline and Rick, both 33 years old, have been living in the fray of New Brunswick since the first week of January. It’s an existence propped up by many hours spent panhandling. It’s a life on pause.

Their story, though not exactly common, is becoming more familiar in a state—and country—that has been hammered by heroin and opioid abuse. In New Jersey in 2014, nearly 30,000 people entered treatment programs for the drug. In 2015, at least 150 New Brunswick residents did the same, the sixth-most among Middlesex County municipalities.

And, as New Brunswick officials have said, homeless people like to come here. The city has an everyday soup kitchen, emergency shelters when it gets too cold and any number of charity groups and social-services agencies.

But no matter how many times similar tales unfold, the story of Chelline and Rick remains troubling, if not heartbreaking.

“In a couple months, we went from having good money to literally nothing,” Chelline says. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m sick of this lifestyle. I just want to be with my son.”

The People Behind the Drug

After a good day, Chelline and Rick like to buy ice cream, a few Butterfingers and a pack of Newports. Sometimes, if they’re feeling wild, they’ll throw down enough cash for a cheap hotel room.

“We spoil each other at night,” Rick says.

Even though they’re addicted to heroin, after all, they’re still people.

Chelline is a former high-school cheerleader. She also danced, played softball and did gymnastics. Her blonde hair and tan face resemble that of the suburban goodie-two-shoes she once was.

Rick is thin and tall, with a coarse beard and scraggly dark-brown hair. His hands, which once performed electrical work, hold a sign soliciting money and wishing God’s blessings upon commuters.

They met in third grade in Milltown, their hometown. For years after, they were close friends. They graduated Spotswood High School together in the Class of 2001.

They were normal kids from seemingly normal families.

Chelline was eventually diagnosed with lupus. She got hooked on opioids after a doctor prescribed her painkillers. She tried to get off by using methadone, which slowly rotted her teeth, and similar come-down drugs.

She also got caught dealing crack and heroin at one point. She said she didn’t use then, but the charges got her locked up in a county cell for about a year.

Chelline’s fiancé left her in 2013, and she began using—hard. She ended up getting off the stuff at a facility called the New Hope Foundation in Marlboro.

Before long, she and Rick got together.

“He was working and making a lot of money. He also kept me in line,” she says. “One night I called him and said, ‘Listen, I really want to get high tonight,’ and he said, ‘OK. I’ll pick it up,’ and it took off from there.”

That was in July, when they had an apartment in East Brunswick. By December, it was clear that they’d soon be homeless.

They have dreams. Chelline wants to go to rehab, study cosmetology and get her son back. They both want to get a place of their own once again and start a family.

Sometimes they make those corny couples-only jokes, like a weird voice or face that only they understand. They laugh together.

And they get high together.

A Typical Day

Chelline and Rick sleep wherever they can. Most often, that’s a tent in the woods, in the bitter-cold New Brunswick winter.

“We wake up with frost on the blankets,” Chelline says, “but it’s better than nothing.”

In the morning, they inject heroin to ward off withdrawals. Their drug use, they say, isn’t about partying. They can’t let themselves face the nausea and general hell that comes with coming down.

They each did a bag of heroin when they woke up today. Around here, the small sacks typically cost $8 or $10. They can get three for $20 total.

Once the drug takes hold, they hit the streets and panhandle for money. Some days, like Mondays, are tougher than others. Fridays bring drunk weekenders who are either happy to give $5 or $10 or yell, pick fights and tell them to get jobs.

Some folks buy them meals. Pizza is the most popular gift.

“I feel like I’m gonna turn into a pizza,” Chelline says with a smile and a laugh.

But many passersby don’t even acknowledge them. They walk ahead, almost straining their necks to not glance at the drug addicts on the sidewalk.

What’s perhaps most painful for Chelline is when she encounters people they know. Just this afternoon, a ghost from their high school drove by and doled out a few cigarettes. Minutes before, some of Rick’s dad’s co-workers sped past.

Strangers, the couple believes, see them in their most simplified form: a pair of homeless drug addicts. Old faces see failures.

“They don’t know that I give a shit about my kid,” Chelline says.

A few times a day, they sneak off to some hidden alcove to get high. The process only takes a few minutes, and it doesn’t tend to leave them nodding out and unable to function, Chelline says.

Come the day’s end, they get dinner either at Elijah’s Promise, the city’s soup kitchen, or a local eatery.

Then they return to their tent, get high and gear up for another hard night.

To Get Clean

Monday is the day. That’s when Chelline plans to call a detox center or a rehab program.

“I was thinking Wednesday,” Rick says.

Specifics aside, they’re determined to set in motion the wheels to get clean next week.

But it’ll be hard, if only because they don’t have access to a phone to make the half-hour assessment call required by some clinics. Never mind the challenge of getting off heroin—and leaving each other for an unknown amount of time to reach that goal.

In a better future, they’re sober and employed. Chelline is with her boy. The couple has a place of its own. Along the way, Chelline’s family may help her with a place to stay or other kinds of support.

Rick and Chelline are young. They believe they can beat heroin.

And they know they can’t keep going on like this.

“I’m over this,” she says. “This was not part of the plan—ever.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Franklin Township

Franklin Republicans take part in Somerset County reorganization

June 17, 2018

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - The Franklin Township Republican Committee participated in a second meeting this week. On Monday night, June 11th, the Committee met for its own reorganization meeting. The very next night on Tuesday, June 12th several Committee members traveled to Hillsborough to meet at the Peter J. Biondi Municipal Building for the Somerset County reorganization.

Al Gaburo, who is a ...

Bridgewater Police: Avoid Mall for Ongoing Police Investigation

June 14, 2018

UPDATE: According to a Nixle alert from the Bridgewater Township Police Department at 9 p.m., the investigation at the mall has been completed, and the mall will be resuming normal business operations.

Police emphasized that there is no immediate threat to the public and no injuries were reported.

Keep checking back for more information.

Related article: Bridgewater Mall Shut Down ...

Students Lead ‘Die-In’ at Congressman Lance’s Westfield Office; Summit Boy Arrested

WESTFIELD, NJ — Seventeen-year-old Summit High School student Ben Schachter was taken away in handcuffs Tuesday during a gun safety “die-in” protest led by local high school students at Congressman Leonard Lance's Westfield office. Lance was not present at the office at the time.

Read: Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman Talks Gun Violence, School Safety, ...

Dozens of Highland Park Residents Rally Against Recent ICE Detainment of Neighbor, Father of 4

Dozens of community members rallied in front of The Reformed Church of Highland Park on Friday afternoon to voice their opposition towards the recent detainment of local resident Cloyd Edralin by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The rally was planned just four days after Edralin, 47, a green card holder from the Philippines and father to four children who are U.S. citizens, was ...

Hillsborough teacher charged with ‘sexual conduct’ with student

NEW BRUNSWICK - A Plainsboro man and tenured English teacher at Hillsboro High School was being held in the Middlesex County jail today on charges of having improper contact with a 17-year-old student that occurred over a period of five months, authorities said today.

Kenneth Shindle, 27, is charged with one count of engaging in sexual conduct that would impair or debauch the morals of the ...

$200K Police Settlement a 'Total Disgrace,' Reiner Says

RARITAN TWP., NJ – A recent TAPinto report that $200,000 was paid to a former township man after he filed a federal suit alleging excessive force by police here prompted a passionate defense of township police by Committeeman Louis Carl Reiner at last night’s Township Committee meeting.

The suit was filed by Dennis Shuman against the township Police Department and several of its ...

Raritan Twp. Paid $200K to Settle 'Excessive Force' Lawsuit

RARITAN TWP., NJ – The township has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in federal court against its police.

The suit was filed by Dennis Shuman against the township Police Department and Patrol Officers D. S. Carson and Aaron Roth; Lt. Nicholas Buck; Sgt. Scott Lessig; and Police Chief Glenn Tabasko. It alleges assault and battery; negligence; emotional distress; abuse of ...

Bridgewater Police: Avoid Mall for Ongoing Police Investigation

June 14, 2018

UPDATE: According to a Nixle alert from the Bridgewater Township Police Department at 9 p.m., the investigation at the mall has been completed, and the mall will be resuming normal business operations.

Police emphasized that there is no immediate threat to the public and no injuries were reported.

Keep checking back for more information.

Related article: Bridgewater Mall Shut Down ...

Students Lead ‘Die-In’ at Congressman Lance’s Westfield Office; Summit Boy Arrested

WESTFIELD, NJ — Seventeen-year-old Summit High School student Ben Schachter was taken away in handcuffs Tuesday during a gun safety “die-in” protest led by local high school students at Congressman Leonard Lance's Westfield office. Lance was not present at the office at the time.

Read: Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman Talks Gun Violence, School Safety, ...

Dozens of Highland Park Residents Rally Against Recent ICE Detainment of Neighbor, Father of 4

Dozens of community members rallied in front of The Reformed Church of Highland Park on Friday afternoon to voice their opposition towards the recent detainment of local resident Cloyd Edralin by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The rally was planned just four days after Edralin, 47, a green card holder from the Philippines and father to four children who are U.S. citizens, was ...

Summer Camp Programs for Children and Teens Announced By Environmental Education Center

June 15, 2018

BERNARDS TWP., NJ – Each summer, the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in Basking Ridge holds programs that let children and teens explore nature for summer activities that both entertaining and an opportunity to learn about the environment.

The programs are organized and led by the EEC's staff of naturalists.

The EEC is a Somerset County facility located at 190 Lord ...

Somerset County Employees' Health Center Opens in Somerville

SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and officials from Integrity Health gathered for a June 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new health care facility on East Main Street.

The Somerset County Partnership Health Center (SCPHC) will serve as an on-site health, wellness and care coordination center for employees of Somerset County, the county park commission, the ...

Long May It Wave: Somerville Elks' Festival Salutes American Flag

SOMERVILLE, NJ The Somerville Elks are hosting their annual salute to America, patriotism and the American Flag  June 15 on the green adjacent to the historic Somerset County Courthouse on East Main Street, beginning at 5 p.m.

The Flag Day Country Music Festival features “Big Hix,” a country/western tribute cover band that takes the stage at 7 p.m. for a free 90-minute ...

Summer Camp Programs for Children and Teens Announced By Environmental Education Center

June 15, 2018

BERNARDS TWP., NJ – Each summer, the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in Basking Ridge holds programs that let children and teens explore nature for summer activities that both entertaining and an opportunity to learn about the environment.

The programs are organized and led by the EEC's staff of naturalists.

The EEC is a Somerset County facility located at 190 Lord ...

Somerset County Employees' Health Center Opens in Somerville

SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and officials from Integrity Health gathered for a June 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new health care facility on East Main Street.

The Somerset County Partnership Health Center (SCPHC) will serve as an on-site health, wellness and care coordination center for employees of Somerset County, the county park commission, the ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 16

Summer is in the air, and the latest episode of AtlantiCast is ready to help you enjoy some fun outdoors while staying safe! This week’s episode opens with tips for sunscreen usage from Atlantic Health System’s Chief Medical and Academic Officer, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller. You’ll also learn about how Atlantic Health System is advancing the future of health care through ...