The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center is the only place people can go for basic overnight shelter without having to prove they’re sober. There are no drug screens at the door, based on the belief that total abstinence is neither a realistic nor humane price for sanctuary from the cold. With that comes the caveat that addictions, with all their baggage, must not threaten the delicate peace of nearly 400 people packed nightly into a four-story community of transient faces.
Last fall, when program director Trish Thacker arrived at Harbor Light, an outbreak of the bizarre street drug K2 in Hennepin County sent 177 people to the hospital in the span of three weeks, a spontaneous spike that averaged out to one overdose a day in 2017.
Compared with 153 opioid-related deaths in the entirety of the county the previous year, the destruction wrought on Minneapolis by this little understood “synthetic marijuana” came as a major shock. Police busted half a dozen alleged dealers, but so far in 2018, the number of K2 overdoses has doubled, according to Hennepin Emergency Medical Services.
Even more alarming for Thacker was how it struck the hubs of Minneapolis’ homeless—Catholic Charities in Phillips, the detox center at 18th and Chicago, and Harbor Light downtown.
The drug would instantly seize control of its victims and cause them to lash out in intensely aggressive, erratic, and self-destructive ways. Fights would break out on multiple floors at the same time, Thacker says, spreading security thin. Once she watched a man, restrained from attacking another, appear to pop his arm out of its socket in his determination to keep swinging.