Troy Boze, founder of the Musical Pathways to Wellness Program and Recovery Services Coordinator, shares his experience using music to engage people as a Peer Navigator in WSP.
I know that you have been doing some recovery services work in WSP. Can you please explain what you’ve been working on?
Somewhere back in June, the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW) was approached by the Manhattan Borough President to provide some recovery services support and resources out of WSP were there was an influx of overdoses, homelessness, and recidivism. So we were asked to send a team of Peer Recovery Advocates to provide some support, do Narcan trainings, and maybe provide some resources to help people could get into shelters are into treatment.
I had to sit down and think about how am I going to approach this. A bit of disclosure, going back close to 30 years ago I too was homeless there in the park. I’m a musician and I remember playing out there in the park with various bands and just doing entertainment. I thought to myself, I’ll take my bass out there to draw a crowd, and then we can start engaging people and doing some trainings with Narcan. That’s how I kind of started back in June, and we’ve been going strong ever since. Now we’re a presence out there in the park.
We are part of what they call the CASN network, which is a SAMHSA run project where they monitor how we are providing services to those that are underserved, people that are in need. That’s basically what we’ve been doing out there since July, meeting people where they’re at, providing sandwiches and some water, and doing Narcan trainings.
As peers, we provide support from our own lived experience. I dig deep down and remember when I was in those dire straits and what did I do to get out, what kind of organizations could I affiliate people to that I myself went through?
We don’t tell anybody what to do, we don’t force anybody to come to treatment, we just offer them the opportunities and let them know that there are options other than sleeping out in the cold or sleeping out here thinking there’s nobody that cares.
Another part of our work is that the community needs to be informed about what they’re seeing. Addiction is not a moral deficiency, addiction is a disease, homelessness is a disease, for lack of a better description, and these things need to be addressed. We can walk by all day long and blame people for being on the street, but what are you doing to help?
This is where the Peer comes in, our emotional support is instrumental in the person’s recovery process by affiliating them with resources, like drop-in shelters or treatment facilities, and trying to get people to break through the ambivalence, put it like that. The way society is today, you know, a lot of people don’t want to go into the shelters because of the crime. Also when COVID hit, that that kind of created a big barrier for people getting resources, because things were closed down for social distancing. We just try to be out there and be supportive and try to give people resources where they can get help.
Can you speak more on the Musical Pathways to Wellness part of what you’re doing and how you’re using it to engage people in the park?
I get on that base and I’m in another zone man, I really play that instrument very well. And people gather around and say, “Wow, man, that’s awesome.” Sometimes they want to give me a tip and I say, “No, I’m not here for tips, but let me give you a tip.” That initiated doing Narcan trainings, handing out the fentanyl strips, and giving out information on all we have to offer at CRW, recovery services, prevention services, our GED program, our Re-Start Academy high school, our residential treatment program, all of that starts to spill out. We have people around who are just curious about what we’re out there doing. It all starts from people being enjoying the sound of me playing the bass and one thing just leads to another. Music draws people. By the way, back in August I was promoted to Recovery Services Coordinator for all of our off-site partnerships. So now I have a team, and we’re out there at WSP providing Peer Services. That’s how it falls into play.
So, you use the music to draw people in and that allows you to engage them with Narcan training, providing information on our services, and so on?
Yes you could put it like that. It wasn’t my original intention to use the base to do that. I just thought that since I’m out in WSP and this is where I did music years ago, let me bring my bass out there. I was reminiscing and it just fell into place like that, it was a beautiful thing.
I was engaging a guy who actually had almost had no clothes on at all, no shoes or shirt or anything like that. He said he was from Boston, and I asked him, “what made you come all the way to New York?” He said, “well, a friend of mine came out here and he got into recovery, he got an apartment and he got a job. I just thought that if I came out here, I could get the same thing.” That blew me away. This dude wanted it that bad that he was willing to hop a bus from another state with practically nothing but what he had with him just seeking recovery.
We navigated that gentleman into the Bellview men’s shelter. I went back out there to the park three weeks later and run into the same dude, fully dressed with a haircut. He said, “Troy, I remember you! Listen, I’m at the Bellevue shelter, I’m getting some help, I’m getting the things I need.” That right there just made me feel so strongly that we got to keep doing this. This is not only to meet the requests from the Manhattan Borough President to address the opioid crisis, but just as a human being, I got to keep doing this. And if my base is pulling people into wanting to get some help, so be it. This is what’s up.
That’s an amazing story.
I get choked up every time I think about it, man. I remember myself about 25 to 30 years ago, in that same kind of predicament. Unfortunately, there were no peers back then, there was nobody out there offering to help me. If anything, people would say, “Get out of here!” But now we have peers, those of us that actually went through that, and we want to come out there and let people know that this is how I got out, and this is how I stay out. If you walk with me, I’ll continue to walk with you until you’re successful. Until you learn how to love yourself, let me love you.
Do you have any closing thoughts about anything that you’ve already mentioned?
In closing, all I would like to say is that when we walk past individuals on the street, and they are begging for money, I would think twice before giving someone money that’s in that state. The reason why I say that is because what is your agenda? Are you doing that for them or are you doing it for you? Why would I want to pay someone to stay in the state that they’re in? When I when I walked past people asking for change, I give them my card and I say “Listen, if you want some help I could give it to you right now, I could get you off the streets right now if you come with me.” I’m not saying that everybody that walks by is equipped like that, but I wish society would have a little bit more empathy for what they’re seeing, you’re seeing a mental illness, you’re seeing substance abuse. If you’re in a position to help, then help, but you’re not helping by paying a person to stay in that condition. That’s my closing thought.