MAN IN A VAN –
May 12, 2021 – The best place to get to know Maurice Abbey-Bey was in the van. Most days, he roamed around the streets of D.C. in a white outreach van belonging to the harm-reduction organization HIPS, handing out clean needles and condoms to residents who need them and administering life-saving Narcan to people experiencing drug overdoses. Known to his colleagues and friends as the “Jesus of the streets,” or simply “Moe,” the D.C. native led an incredible life, one that took him from the dark pits of opioid addiction to the forefront of drug policy changes in the city. Abbey-Bey died on April 5 after a battle with leukemia, according to his family, and leaves behind his wife and work partner, Charmaine Sauls, three biological sisters, and 17 nieces and nephews. He was 64 years old. Friends, family, and coworkers describe Abbey-Bey as an unmatched force of nature in D.C. He changed the lives of just about every person he met — and he met with everyone he could, from people experiencing the worst conditions on the streets to high-profile politicians, spreading his gospel of ending drug-related deaths across the U.S. (Senator Bernie Sanders highlighted Abbey-Bey’s work for International Overdose Awareness Day.) WAMU once spent a day with Abbey-Bey as he handed out syringes and explained the dangers drug users face when injecting with used needles. He described the horrific things he’d seen, like people using contaminated water to cook heroin. As a former heroin user, Abbey-Bey knew these stories personally. A family member gave him his first shot at 12 years old, he once said. He was incarcerated for about 30 years on drug charges, but when he got out of prison in 2003, he didn’t let those experiences define him. He got clean at 45 and empowered others by sharing his journey, promoting safe use and helping others overcome addiction. With his personal story in tow, he helped create the Chosen Few, a HIPS initiative focused on research, peer-to-peer education, and supporting those who have been most impacted by the War on Drugs. “Everybody knew Moe,” said Alexandra Bradley, the HIPS outreach manager. “Everybody knew that if you wanted a conversation with Moe, you got in the van. That was where he did his thinking, it’s where he told all his stories. He used to go out with staff and interns to teach them and take them under his wing.” Bradley was a volunteer in 2015 when she met Abbey-Bey, who was supposed to interview her for a full-time job. She was on the fence about it, but Abbey-Bey showed up to her house in the van, told her to hop in, and proceeded to share words of wisdom and encouragement. The heart-to-heart ultimately convinced Bradley to join the staff.
“He had really big dreams, thoughts, and ideas,” Bradley said. “He was never afraid. If anybody walked up to him with a microphone, he was always ready. He lived and breathed harm reduction, and it was beautiful to watch.