Left to right: Francis (a two-year-old child) sits on his mother's hip (Naomi) and Jamila (far right) has her arm around Naomi
It’s been hard, but everything has made it worth it. Any struggle is better than what I went through on the streets.

Left to right: Francis Wildflower, Naomi Wildflower, and Jamila. Photo courtesy of Naomi. 

Jamila admits she was a “hard case.” Although she was unhoused and dependent on illicit drugs, she continually rebuffed Prevention Point Philadelphia’s employees who offered her help. She didn’t want to quit using — fearful of withdrawal — and she didn’t want to live in a place where someone else set the rules.  

“They kept coming to me, but I always told them ‘no,’” says Jamila, now 47 and living in a Northern Liberties apartment with two of her adult children.  

 She slowly began utilizing PPP’s programs, including the syringe services program and the MOUD clinic. She never missed Wednesday’s Womxn’s Nights, where she could take a shower and pick up clean clothes.  

She was still living outside, but she also knew she was welcome to come in. Four years ago, she finally did.  

“No one gave up on me,” she says. “They saw the potential I had.” 

Who would have thought I’d end up in this situation?

Jamila grew up in Philadelphia. Her parents were very religious and shared their Christian beliefs with their children.  

“My story isn’t that we lived in poverty. I had a great middle-class upbringing. Who would have thought I’d end up in this situation?” she says.  

Jamila was 28 when she first snorted heroin. The “euphoria” the drug provided enticed her to do it again.  

“With this drug, I could escape any time I wanted and I thought it was manageable,” she says. “It was affordable, and I dibbed and dabbed and thought no one knew."   

Jamila had tried to stop using substances a few times over the years. In fact, in 2007, she successfully completed a rehabilitation program and was drug-free for about a decade. During that time, she trained to be a peer support specialist, helping others in recovery and serving as a role model. She worked for a government-funded health care program that helps uninsured people who seek drug or alcohol treatment services.  

The work, she says, was challenging, high pressure, and sometimes thankless. The people she was trying to help could be “hard cases,” the words she would later use to describe herself.  

“The energy can get dark and you take that home with you,” Jamila says. “You think, ‘I’ve been doing great for so long, I can reward myself.’ It’s insanity, thinking that you can keep doing the same thing and the outcome will be different.” 

PPP stands for change.

Jamila began using heroin again, sometimes using at work or falling asleep at her desk. She soon lost her job and her apartment. She returned to the streets of Kensington, where she first encountered PPP workers. Their efforts eventually paid off because they never judged her, she says. They never showed frustration when she made questionable choices.  

“They understand what addiction is. They understand what it does to people and how many families it breaks up,” she says. “(PPP) stands for change. They stand for patience. They stand for giving a chance.” 

Jamila stayed in PPP’s respite shelter from July 2019 to February 2020. With her case manager Naomi Wildflower’s support, Jamila finished an intake at an outpatient therapy center the day before her birthday on February 13. 

“I was so proud of her for finishing the intake,” Naomi says. “She and I had worked together for several months and Jamila had struggled to make appointments before.” 

Naomi remembers being “surprised, excited, and amazed” that the next day, on her birthday, Jamila decided it was time to go to long-term inpatient treatment and “stuck with it for over a year.” 

Going out and using is not an option.

Jamila says at least five of her friends and acquaintances have died from their substance use.  

“I believe if I hadn’t gone into treatment I might have wound up in the grave too,” she says. “My children didn’t deserve that. I was afraid there would be no closure for the people in my family (if I died).”  

Jamila is paying for her share of the apartment she shares with her two sons with her government disability checks. She’s slowly rebuilding her relationships with her children. (She also has a daughter who works as a home health aide). They don’t fully trust her and she understands why: She’d disappointed them in the past. 

“It’s been hard, but everything has made it worth it,” she says. “Any struggle is better than what I went through on the streets.” 

Naomi remains deeply impressed by Jamila’s accomplishments: “I think a lot of people would look at Jamila when she was in active use and assume she wouldn’t change her life. I am so proud to know her and so grateful we still keep in touch today.” 

Jamila says she won’t use drugs again, even when times are tough: “Going out and using is not an option,” she says. When I find myself in a situation where I’m tempted or craving my hit, I go to outpatient therapy or share in a group or talk to someone.” 

The urge to use is fleeting, she says. The impact would be forever, and “I’m not the only one who would be hurt.”