Christen 'Tiny' Herron Markwell has been surrounded by addiction for most of her life. Her father, a preacher, worked at a small church in Old Louisville. Though the congregation was small, Markwell said the doors were always open – bringing people from all walks of life into each pew.
“From a really early age I learned what addiction was and what prostitution was, but I was taught to love them and not shun them,” Markwell said.
Seeing how desperate people were for help, Markwell put her father’s teachings into action, founding The Forgotten Louisville in 2005. The nonprofit is dedicated to helping Louisville’s addicted and homeless residents.
"I called it The Forgotten Louisville because we are a city full of resources – we have lots of resources for the homeless, we have lots of resources for substance use disorder, but for whatever reason they don't get tapped into like they should,” Markwell said.
Every week, Markwell and a group of volunteers hit the streets, talking to people – providing help if needed. They go to the corners of town with horrible reputations, getting to know each person for who they are, not what they do.
"We’ve really just tried to come out here and hang out, get to know the folks, know their names and their stories and how we can help them,” Markwell said.
Some do not want help – doing anything they want to get what they need to satisfy their addiction.
"I ain't gonna lie, I spend probably $40 to $45 a day on it. How I get my money? I panhandle, fly a sign, however I can,” one spice addict said. "We're addicts, you know what I'm saying?"
But when they do need help, Markwell and her team are there, taking people to detox, finding sober living solutions and following them through the process.
"What I'm doing now is I'm digging a hole so damn deep man,” one addict said, “but I'm crawling up out of it slowly."
All volunteers carry Narcan as overdoses have become more prevalent now than when the nonprofit first began. Louisville EMS reported 17 overdose calls a day in 2019, with first responders administering 1,086 doses through the end of May. The numbers, though large, are down from previous years.
Volunteers also practice “harm reduction,” supporting a needle exchange program and promoting the notion that addicts use together with access and ability to administer Narcan, something Markwell said many people may not agree with.
"Harm reduction…does not mean I'm saying go get high. That is me saying I accept you as you are, you've shared with me what your struggles are, let me give you some tips on at least how to be safe if you choose to do this,” Markwell said.
Several of the nonprofit’s volunteers are recovering addicts, with stories of how dirty needles or near-death experience brought them back to a reality Markwell helps them through.
"You've got a very fine window and with that window we want to be there and be able to respond right now,” Markwell said. “You are not forgotten. You are loved.”