Stephan (Steve) Kamenicky, born August 24, 1957, also known as “Ponytail Steve” by the many thousands of people he has helped over the years, passed away last Friday, July 31st, 2020 from presumed natural causes.
Steve often estimated that he personally reversed over 150 overdoses in his lifetime in the Chicagoland area, which does not include the number of people he provided with supplies, naloxone, and education over his 20 years with CRA. Steve was a part of CRA since its earliest days and helped lead CRA as a member of CRAs board of Directors for several years. Steve frequently worked on City, State, and National policy efforts by giving presentations to a variety of individuals and groups of government officials, private foundations, funders, politicians, reporters, and media as an advocate for harm reduction and drug user health. He was a talented speaker and tireless advocate for drug user health and human rights. Steve also provided harm reduction outreach for a long time as a volunteer in Cicero and surrounding communities, reaching individuals at highest risk until he was finally hired in 2017 to help start CRAs Community Health Educator program. Steve was a founder of Chicago’s Drug Users Union, and contributed to Chicago’s efforts to start SIFs as part of the Drug Users Health Collective since it started in 2016. In all of these roles he was passionate, outspoken, and committed to meeting people where they were at.
Steve loved many things in life: loud classic rock, animals of all shapes and sizes, and sweet treats (candy, chocolate, soda – the sweet tooth was real). Possibly the greatest love of his life, his wife Pam, passed away in 2016. He adored and was devoted to his mother, sometimes travelling hours on public transportation to visit her.
Steve was an ever positive presence here at CRA; consistently checking in on people, making jokes, and maintaining a sweet demeanor even when he was frustrated or struggling. In working to intervene on the health impacts of the drug war there are myriad frustrations. Despite this, Steve was a ray of hope in that ongoing fight.
Locally in Chicago, Steve not only was a fierce believer of overdose prevention, but he also organized and ran a camp for people experiencing homelessness for many years. Steve was a vocal advocate in favor of Overdose Prevention Sites being implemented in Chicago and beyond. He worked to reduce the stigma of drug use by co-founding the Chicago Drug Users’ Union. Steve was skilled in moving people to an understanding of the importance of the health and dignity of people who use drugs. He also shared his knowledge through guest speaking at harm reduction conferences and to college students. At CRA, Steve spent many years with us and filled our lives and our space in ways that cannot be replaced. He was a leader in our Community Health Educator program and helped develop its current format and approach.
Nationally, Steve is known to many for his prominent role in one of the first overdose prevention videos recorded and posted on the Internet in 2008. The number of lives Steve has touched – in-person, through supplies he distributed, through his voice and words and presence on the internet – is countless. He is deeply loved and will be deeply missed.
All of our love is with you. Love, your colleagues at CRA and in Chicago.