Savage Sisters in Kensington assists residents with supplies and cleans the streets for a better neighborhood
Sarah Laurel is in the neighborhood daily to let residents know that “we are here for them and we love them.”
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Not long ago, Savage Sisters recovery was just one modest house helping women in recovery get back on their feet.
Almost five years later and Sarah Laurel, the founder of Savage Sisters, has a fourth recovery house in the works and is offering more than just a place to stay for those recovering from addiction.
“We have been doing this for many years, so these are my people,” she said in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.
Laurel is familiar with the road to recovery because she has been on it herself.
“Four and a half years ago I was homeless in Kensington,” she said. “I was shooting up heroin and smoking crack, I ended up getting thrown out of a second-floor window.”
The incident required Laurel to get metal screws in her legs, and she was wheelchair-bound for quite some time.
“I was wheeled into my first NA meeting and I had to live in a recovery house,” she said.
Laurel did not know this at the time, but the traumatic endeavor that she was going through would eventually develop into something that would save many lives.
It started with a friend reaching out.
“My friend reached out to me and asked if I wanted to run a bunch of recovery houses. The person who owned the properties didn’t know about recovery houses so I got on board and developed Savage Sisters,” she said.
Eventually, her brother Adam got involved in the project and was able to buy a house in Grays Ferry that Laurel could rent out to those fighting substance abuse.
On top of giving them a place to live, Laurel helps them get access to doctors’ appointments, financial advising sessions and assists in getting them into therapy.
“I also try to get them into practicing meditation, holistic healing, eating healthy, and 12-step fellowships,” she said.
In addition to the recovery houses that she manages, Laurel and her volunteers also offer outreach to citizens of Kensington.
“We deliver harm reduction kits, hot food for them if it’s nice out we go out and give them weather-appropriate supplies,” she said.
Laurel and her crew of volunteers also take the time to clean up the streets of Kensington by picking up needles and tossing them in disposal bins.
Along with the selfless acts of kindness Laurel performs, she has also developed a Sex Workers Initiative to ensure that all individuals are taking safety precautions while engaging in survivor sex.
“We want to talk to them about harm reduction like using condoms and not sharing syringes,” she said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came to Philadelphia, Kensington was the neighborhood hit hardest.
“The residential area goes widely unnoticed, undeserved, unpatrolled. They are not financed in any special way, and students cannot go to school and parents cannot go to work,” said Laurel.
People who were using had no way to support their habit.
“Kensington was dry, there was no money, people were getting violent because they had substance use problems,” she said.
When pandemic unemployment and PUA rollouts hit the accounts of those who have substance abuse, many people died from overdoses.
“There were six funerals in one week for people who were in recovery, but relapsed when their money came,” she said.
Then, on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd died under police custody in Minneapolis, civil unrest gripped the streets of Philadelphia.
“Rittenhouse Square protested, but they were controlled, Kensington was protesting and ATM machines were blowing up, no one was helping,” said Laurel.
As she grew frustrated with the lack of help the neighborhood was receiving, she decided to join in on the marches.
“I’m not trying to talk smack on the city, but I felt like I don’t know that anybody felt safe,” she said.
As other nonprofits who came to Kensington monthly to hand out supplies did not feel safe going to the area during the pandemic, Laurel went with a trunk full of clothes, toiletries, and Narcan in her trunk.
“I want them to know that we are here for them and we love them,” she said.
For her, the mission is just beginning. Laurel and her crew still go out every Thursday to deliver supplies.
She also has outreach events that usually take place on Saturdays.
The events are from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Donate to Savage Sisters Recovery to end the stigma of drug abuse and to limit the number of drug overdoses that go unnoticed in Philly.
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.