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Drug Arm VanDrug-ARM brings God to the street

While most of us are tucked up snugly in bed for the night, the volunteers at Drug-ARM are reaching out to people on the streets.

Drug-ARM is a multi-denominational Christian organization dedicated to helping people deal with alcohol and drug abuse. It has 13 branches throughout New Zealand.

National director Graeme Bisseker says Drug-ARM’s mission is to reach out to people struggling with addiction or alternative lifestyle issues.

“The core business of Drug-ARM is our street vans. Branches have one or two vans and head out to the inner city or suburbs between 10 at night and three in the morning to target young people on the street, the homeless, and prostitutes.”

On a typical night a volunteer team gets together at 9:30pm, prays, organises the van and picks up donated food. They drive to the central city and park so regular homeless visitors can drop in to talk or have something to eat. Later the van heads off so volunteers can talk with street prostitutes.

Graeme says Drug-ARM aims to form relationships with prostitutes with the eventual goal of assisting them off the lifestyle. Many have drug problems so change is a long process.

Drug-ARM also encounters children and teenagers on the streets.

“You’d be surprised how many young people we see. It’s not uncommon for us to be dealing with 11 and 12 year olds,” says Graeme.

The volunteers talk with them, offer them a hot drink, and call someone to pick them up if appropriate. Occasionally they need to call an ambulance or the police, or more often liaise with support agencies.

Drug-ARM’s Wellington chairperson Jan Kerr says the composition of people on the streets has changed in Wellington. “It used to be older alkies, glue sniffers. You don’t see them any more. It’s mostly just young kids. Kids don’t seem to have any hope or dreams these days.”

Drug-ARM seeks to bolster their self-esteem and show them possibilities in their lives. “We tell them they can do anything if they believe in themselves and trust in God.”

The results are usually not immediate, and it can take three or four years for someone to turn their life around.

‘P’, or pure methamphetamine, is a huge emerging problem and has already reached epidemic proportions in New Zealand by WHO standards. Jan has noticed increased aggression on the streets in Wellington since P arrived on the scene and there is a need to train volunteers how to handle it.

A joint Rotary and Drug-ARM meeting on this topic in Palmerston North last month drew 300 concerned people. From this meeting, Drug-ARM will coordinate 20 volunteers to run parent support groups.

With the arrival of ‘ice’, an even purer derivation of methamphetamine, Graeme identifies a need for similar groups and workshops around the country.

Drug-ARM has been operating for 25 years in Australasia. Graeme says it is a “contemporary follow-on from the temperance movement”. Some funding comes from the now defunct NZ Temperance Alliance. Another source of money is donations from individuals and businesses and grants from charitable trusts.

Some Drug-Arm branches offer drug and alcohol counselling. Many run a programme called Addictions Victorious which helps people move away from drug-use.

Graeme says Drug-Arms is not out to “Bible bash”, but instead give people an insight into a loving God.

“Street people have a lot of people nous. They know if you’re not interested in them. We form relationships first. It doesn’t take long for someone to ask, ‘why are you out here at two in the morning?’”

Volunteers are trained in first aid, drug and alcohol issues, basic law and evangelism. Some centres have plenty of volunteers, others face a recruitment problem.

“A lot of churches are reluctant to release people to help Drug-ARM,” says Graeme. “The commitment required is modest. Give us seven people on a Friday or Saturday night once every three weeks. If they come out with us for 12 months, I guarantee they’ll grow spiritually.”

He says another challenge for churches is to incorporate people with addiction problems once they have decided to change their lifestyle and give themselves to God. Graeme says churches can be closed to people with addiction problems, or who are struggling to get out of a criminal lifestyle, or who are even just smelly.