Empty Shoes at Liberty Pole Stark Reminder of Opioid Crisis

The shoes were joined by banners, signs and relics of the loved ones. Credit: Michele Ashlee

The shoes were joined by banners, signs and relics of the loved ones. Credit: Michele Ashlee

Empty shoes neatly lined the Liberty Pole, visualizing an opioid crisis that has ravaged Monroe County, destroying lives in its wake. Each pair of shoes belonged to someone who overdosed.

Earlier this week, Monroe County’s Office of the Medical Examiner reported there were 206 opioid-related overdoses in 2016 in the region. Data showed the bulk of these overdoses happened specifically in Monroe County. 189 to be exact.

“It’s striking,” said Pamela Quirk, a bystander who was in the downtown area. “You see it in the news a lot but there’s raw pain here. No offense, but it’s something the news can’t quite capture when they talk about the data. I think it’s cool that the families would even do this. It has to hurt.”

The shoes often accompanied handmade signs and remembrances of the loved one. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

The shoes often accompanied handmade signs and remembrances of the loved one. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

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Mothers were there with framed pictures of their child. Accompanying the shoes were handmade crosses and signs from the dead loved one’s family. A reminder of fathers lost, brothers gone and sisters never to return home.

For others, it’s a reminder of the dire consequences that come with substance abuse and dealing.

“I see drug dealers in my hood,” said Delante Parker, a resident of Marketview Heights. He was downtown on his way to the Transit Center, heading to work. “It’s normal. On my side, I see the money that comes with it. You know while we at school, they out getting money. So it’s cool, well not cool but you know, to see the flipside of that money. Makes you feel kind of good for not being part of that.”

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Previously, there have also been town hall discussions, workshops and community talks, bringing together families of those who have overdosed or have been otherwise impacted by the opiod crisis. There’s also a documentary on VIMEO that talks to residents of the  North Clinton Avenue area, a hub of the crisis. Drivers complain that when they drive down Aveue A sometimes they’re approached by dealer.

The shoes at the Liberty Pole is an attention-grabber meant to start a discussion. With such high numbers of overdoses, users, and dealers it certainly won’t be the last.

“I’ll definitely think about this,” said Parker, laughing. “Honestly my first thing was to look at my shoes. Like, what if they were up there for people to look at instead of on my feet?”

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Credit: Michele Ashlee