Saturday, April 19, 2008

Needle Delivery Service

The Recovery Alliance, a needle exchange program for both drug users and non-drug users, stops once a week in Uptown, right in front of the Cornerstone Day Care Center on Clifton.

Read the about this service in the Medill News from Northwestern here.


  1. For Sylvia Center to be allowed a zoning variance, a number of conditions were "required" and if they were not followed, Sylvia Center would not be allowed to have a shelter at 4615 N. Clifton. One of those requirements was that no shelter resident could not be actively using drugs. Period. Ald. Shiller was fully aware of this requirement. When the conditions were not being followed and people protested, she said and did nothing.

    Now Labor Ready has conditions placed on it for it to be allowed on Sheridan. Ald. Shiller explained that unlike Sylvia Center, the conditions placed on Labor Ready could be enforced.

    If she was aware that requirements placed on the Sylvia Center could not be enforced, why did she not speak up?

    And she wonders why we have a difficult time taking her for her word.

  2. James, I still am so proud of the courage you and others in our neighborhood showed in taking on the Sylvia Center issues. The fire this winter at that shelter could have been a horrible disaster with hundreds of homeless victims.

    Instead, only a few police officers were injured and every single person in that shelter survived the fire. Helen and Cornerstone lost that battle you and others took on. Quite possibly hundreds of people owe their very lives to your efforts.

    Thank You, James!

  3. I believe this free needle exchange program was also funded and legalized via State Rep Sara Feigenholtz's proud legistlative accomplishments.

    I wonder why she doesn't have it operate down by her legislative offices in that lovely, upstanding Lakeview neighborhood?

  4. The needle exchange program is, across all direct measures, a public health success story. It's the preventative health dollar we all talk about and say we value in action.

    I know Dan, the ED for CRA, and they don't come any more conscientious or ethical. He’s dedicated his life’s work to harm reduction and he’s done more for the public good than most.

    As the community takes Helen to task for the stupid promise she made to secure the variance for the shelter, let’s make sure the CRA isn’t punished for her failure or Sylvia’s naiveté.

    As for the CRA van, it’s in Edgewater three times a week (5537 N. Broadway). It’s in Uptown only once a week.

    Also, don’t be surprised if you see Sophie and I step into the CRA van. Relax, we’re not shooting up here at chez Elder. Well, yes, actually we are but it’s insulin. Rather than dispose of Sophie’s needles in the regular trash, we deposit them with CRA because they employ the safest disposal methods for all types of injection needles.

  5. Thanks, Suzanne. You bring up some important points. Recovery Alliance has shown effectiveness in reducing the risks of HIV transmission, which is its primary intent. It confronts the reality that "Just Say No" is not going to stop drug use.

    A couple of thoughts:
    You make an interesting point that if people see you walking into the van, you don't want them to assume you are an injecting drug user. It has to also be difficult for injecting drug users to use this van anonymously as well. I'm more inclined to seek a way that this service could be provided in a manner so that one's anonymity could be better respected. I'm not saying there should be no vans, but a better method of protecting anonymity is needed, and that would increase use for this service.

    You also mention that this service is sometimes used for those with diabetes. You point out a flaw in our health care system that people with diabetes face obstacles with obtaining & disposing of syringes. You end up having to "work around" a broken system and utilizing Recovery Alliance instead. I work in health care and have seen the sad reality that many people face, but it would be nice to have our local and state politicians work together to better coordinate services to prevent these kinds of work-arounds. Sadly, it sounds like it's your best answer yet.

    I'll check with other social workers I know to see if there's a way to get around having to utilize Recovery Alliance for obtaining & disposing of your syringes. If I come up with something, I'll get back to you.

  6. I’m not so sure that anonymity is an issue here. I don’t think the visibility of the van disturbs those who need nearly as much as it bothers those who don’t.

    When Dan and others first began their work in harm reduction, one of the key elements was how to provide access. Providers who won exemptions to operate enjoyed only a brief victory because they couldn’t find locations or secure leases. Landlords refused to let space. The van concept was, in part, borne from this problem. Mobility was the other determining factor.

    One of the earliest models envisioned piggybacking harm reduction services with public health centers. It was, and still is, the smartest thing, both in terms of service saturation, data collection, and anonymity if desired. That model went over like a lead balloon then. I can’t imagine this legislature embracing it with any more of a welcome today.

    As far as diabetes and the state, the disposal of syringes is the least of our problems. And when I say “our” I mean all of us. Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, is on the rise and it’s poised to become what I call the Mothra of public health spending. It eats 1 in 5 public health dollars today. In the next decade, it’s poised to cost so much that it will blow up healthcare as we know it. I wish I was being hyperbolic.

    And kids with type 1? Call them screwed. The state just passed a regulatory amendment that prohibits anyone other than a licensed nurse to provide health care support to kids with diabetes in school. It’s a $200 million fix for a 20¢ problem. Only in Illinois could the legislature ADD language that most other states have excised.

    As for an alternative to CRA, there’s no need. I like visiting the van, having a chat. It doesn’t bother me in the least to drop our syringes there. It’s so close to the apartment.

    A funny story: Not too long ago, my Mom was tooling around the neighborhood with Sophie. One of the CRA regulars, a user but otherwise a terrifically decent guy, stopped my Mom and gently interrogated her. He knew who Sophie was but had no idea who my Mom was and he wanted to make sure Sophie was ok. My Mom was a rather unconventional gal so she appreciated the spot check.

    So did I.

  7. (I believe the issue is that the program for needle exchange should not take place on the doorstep of a children's daycare center. Yes, there are injecting diabetics in the world, including those in my family. But let's not kid ourselves into believing that that accounts for the bulk of the needles being exchanged. The Syliva Center is housing persons with drug addictions in violation of their zoning variance.

    Zoning encompasses the whole issue of incompatible uses within the same or between adjoining properties. Needle exchange programs that are geared toward having individuals with abusive drug habits surrender their needles for a fresh supply should not take place on the door step of a children's day care center next door.

    These needle exchange programs might very well be wonderful for disease control and the health of the drug abuser but that does not mean that needle exchange programs ever belong in the presense of children. Those arguments are red herrings.

    The other posts say a van is employed to avoid objections that arise in seeking a permanent location. Should vans be used to shuffle incompatible uses around neighborhoods to avoid zoning restrictions? That certainly does not protect the community in which the the van operates.

  8. You all make relevant comments...however, everyone seems to be missing a valid point: with CRA, these syringes and works would be littering the streets and corners of Uptown and Chicago in general. I am sure that this would make lovely pictures for everyone to bitch about on this website too. I live in Uptown, am concerned about the neighborhood and am actually a volunteer for CRA as well. Not only do we provide clean syringes and works for clients who need them, but we offer medical services and HIV testing as well. Does anyone here realize that Uptown has the highest concentration of people living with HIV/AIDS than any other neighborhood in Chicago? Or that 25% of people infected with HIV are unaware? That's 250,000 people in the United States alone!This real public health need cannot be ignored, and CRA does an incredible job providing harm reduction services to populations who need it most. Additionally, CRA has consistently proved to be effective on a variety of fronts. Close to 900 overdose deaths have been prevented due to CRA's efforts, the HIV incidence is declining in the IDU population (the ONLY population experiencing a decline, by the way), and vaccination services for Hepatitis and influenza protect the general public and contribute to the "greater good". Instead of being so concerned that a few citizens are making a difference in a population that is already stigmatized and discriminated against, let's all take a moment and think about the evidence. Without the services that CRA proivides, disease would run rampant and cost taxpayer's millions of dollars. Come on now people, what is more important?

  9. social workers make me puke - they can say they have empathy for the "down and out" but don't expect the down and out to be responsible - Uptown does not need any more social workers or social "service" organizations - we need people to stand up and say enough is enough - MY RIGHT to a decent neighborhood is JUST as IMPORTANT than than the druggies right to get drugs -

  10. This is a ridiculous debate. The syringe exchange does not distribute drugs, it makes your community safer! You all might benefit from remembering that the needle exchange doesn't draw drug users to your community, they live there already - and they deserve dignity and respect as you do. The exchange allows for one such place where people can be treated with respect and access the services they need. It also helps to keep discarded syringes from littering your neighborhood, so be thankful already!

  11. I am not a Social Worker, but fully appreciate all of the tireless and often thankless work that they do in our community. Has anyone thought about what state Uptown would be in without any of the social service organizations that have been working here for years? (before many of us were even in the picture?) And actually, quite the contrary...needle exchange IS promoting resposibility among the "down and out"! Needle exchange does not PROMOTE drug use or help anyone acquire simply gives them the tools to do it safely. Compare it to silverware...does the presence of a fork MAKE you WANT to eat? simply allows you to eat properly and safely. This isn't just YOUR neighborhood either. I live in Uptown, and fully support EVERYTHING that CRA is doing to bring harm reduction measures to our neighborhood.
    What would you have people do...simply move all of the ecopnomically disadvantaged people to another neighborhood or quarantine them?
    That was tried once before during the Holocaust, remember? Frankly, people with NO compassion whatsoever make ME want to puke!

  12. As a social worker, I can sadly understand why some people want to puke at the thought of social workers. However, few social workers are employed by these agencies. A good licensed clinical social worker is committed to the use of best practices that serve to empower people to live healthy and productive lives.

    There's also this misperception that the social services provide care to Uptown residents. Many social workers will tell you that the homeless are sent to Uptown because of all the many social services that are already in place.

    There are some well-run homeless shelters, but we also have some examples of poorly run shelters as well. Those poorly run social services unfortunately give a bad name to those that are good neighbors to the rest of the community.

    It's been said before, and I agree. . . We need all homeless shelters to be licensed so that we have the needed tools to encourage the use of best practices that are already being utilized in many parts of the country.

  13. Thanks anon 9:56 for taking the time to discuss the benefits of needle exchange programs. We all benefit when knowledgeable people explain the purposes of such programs to people with little previous experience with them.

    However, the point of this thread really isn't about the pros/cons of such programs. People are frustrated because the Sylvia Center was not supposed to have drug addicted residents per their zoning permit. The fact that the van comes seems to be "proof" to some residents that there are, in fact, people with addictions at that location. People on this blog also generally question the appropriateness of certain social service programs being placed next to spaces where children are.

    As someone who really likes this blog and who works in a profession that deals with poverty & social issues, I am really frustrated with how these threads can disintegrate when people don't follow the sentiments closely. IMHO there is a lot of education that needs to be done about various issues (as you have done anon 9:56) but there also needs to be some space for people to question how these social ills are being managed in Uptown. People who question 2 methadone clinics on one block are not necessarily against methadone clinics, people who question loitering and crime around homeless shelters or public housing are not necessarily against the homeless and the very poor. In the case of this thread, people who question whether or not Sylvia Center is living up to its zoning restrictions are not necessarily against needle exchanges.

    Please, please everyone! It is so hard to discuss these things in a message board as it is. Can't we try to be more careful about our responses so that information is shared & people learn something they may not have known but it doesn't devolve into "us" and "them"???!!!

  14. Let's also consider when the van is there and when the daycare center is open. The van is there Sunday afternoons, and I would guess the daycare center is closed then.

  15. those are subcutaneous insulin syringes. what makes you sure they are for illegal drugs? diabetes is a very common illness. and besides, i'd rather people did not spread their hiv or hepatitis with others thanks very much. needle exchange programs don't encourage drug use, they prevent the spread of disease.

  16. Again, the point is that if no one is allowed to stay at Sylvia Center who is an active drug user, there should be no need for Recovery Alliance to park their van right outside its front doors.

    Parking it there is an insult to the agreement that was promised by the the Zoning Board of Appeals, which also said the shelter would IMMEDIATELY close down if the restrictions were not followed.

    I don't care how good and useful Recovery Alliance is. It can be the best damn program ever. They should not be parking their van right outside the doors of a shelter that is not allowed to have any drug users living there. I'm not sure why this is difficult to understand.