Earlier this week, CF Sheri wrote “Atlanta Harm Reduction: Prevention as First Response” to shine a light on the great work of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC). Today, CFs EeshaP and Crunkadelic continue to lift up the AHRC that, like so many grassroots organizations doing direct service in our communities, is struggling with financial problems that may force it to shut its doors. If you are able, please consider giving a donation that would enable the AHRC to continue providing services to some of the most marginalized in the Atlanta community.
There are many ways to create safety and security in our communities, to be sure. But what if these communities have multiple and competing needs (as they almost always do)? How can we decipher priorities? One approach that helps us make these, at times, life and death decisions is the harm reduction model. What is “harm reduction?” Harm reduction is a set of strategies that aim to reduce the negative outcomes associated with drug use. At its core, however, harm reduction an approach to social justice that affirms the rights, humanity and agency of people who use drugs. The strategies of harm reduction and varied and diverse and they focus on meeting people just exactly where they are via prevention and intervention to minimize risk and promote safety. This can mean offering clean syringes to injection drug users, supplying meals and showers, and providing non-judgemental counseling services. The harm reduction approach accepts that drug use is part of our world, and is a complex phenomenon. Instead of shaming and condemning drug users, this approach centers individual and community wellness and safety, through non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live. Taking into account the myriad social structures that oppress people, and without denying the real dangers of drug use, a key principle of this model is the belief that people, even those who use drugs, are agents and deserve to be treated as such.
This philosophy is at the core of the work of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC). The AHRC provides a whole host of services on a very modest budget, including:
- Hot meals
- A syringe exchange program
- Free HIV testing and counseling
- Health education and support groups
- Free condoms and Safer sex counseling
- Computer lab
- Space for showers
- Food baskets
Every week, the AHRC provides hot meals for 200-300 and in 2012 alone, the AHRC collected 66,000 syringes in its exchange program. Their work is vital in an era where nonprofit and grassroots organizations seem to be folding left and right. However, AHRC faces a particular battle because of the nature of its work.
The reality is that often times the poor, especially those struggling with drug addiction, are viewed as pariahs in need of surveillance and discipline, rather than as people in need of compassion and resources. Marshall Rancifer, Advocacy Director of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, sums it up this way:
The world tends to view the poor as a group that is helpless; thus we give ourselves permission to play God in the lives of the poor. The poor become nameless, and this invites us to treat them as objects of our compassion, as a thing to which we can do what we believe is best…Talking about the poor as an abstract noun invites well-intentioned people of compassion to speak for the poor and to practice the latest fads in social engineering. The poor become custodians of the state, objects of professional study, or a social group to be organized. Whenever we reduce poor people from names to abstractions, we add to their poverty and impoverish ourselves. (source)
Today in Atlanta the AHRC is holding a fundraising open house from 10am to 4pm. If you are in the area and are able, please check it out. If you can give a dollar or two, help them out. If you can volunteer your time, head on over there. They need folks who can serve food, help with data entry, participate in outreach, and help with programming. If you are not in the metro Atlanta area, also consider donating your time and/or money to a local harm reduction center in your area.