A gathering of HRCSCC participants, volunteers, and staff.

A gathering of HRCSCC participants, volunteers, and staff. 

On August 7th, the Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County (HRCSCC) announced that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has finally approved their Syringe Services Program application.  The decision has been long awaited, as authorization for the program was expected back in early March.  Understandably, with COVID-19, the CDPH had to delay the decision for several months.  For more background on their application process, check out my December 10th article, Homelessness and Syringe Use in Santa Cruz County on our website.

Alongside the approval to run their service, the HRCSCC excitedly announced several grants that will allow them to immediately service our communities.  The organization has been approved for a 405,000-dollar grant from the California Harm Reduction Initiative for the next three years. Additionally, HRCSCC will receive 10,000 dollars from the CDPH supporting their effort to correctly dispose of syringe litter.  In 2019, the Coalition reported disposal of 140,580 used syringes, “meaning no other volunteer-based program has contributed more to keeping used syringes from ending up in our parks, waterways, and beaches.”

Dani Drysdale, the Santa Cruz County Coordinator, went into detail on their newest resources and plans.  “With our newest funds, we will be able to employ fulltime and part-time employees.  We will also be able to provide stipends to those who assist in the operations of the program, like cleaning up syringe litter and staffing their outreach site… We’ve always made it a practice to clean up syringe litter throughout the week in high traffic areas, but now we’ll be able to provide a stipend to those who do.”

In accordance to other best practices outlined by syringe organizations, the CDC, and the CDPH, the HRCSCC is using a needs-based model for their exchange, unlike other one-to-one county programs. Needs-based programs supply syringes based on demand, instead of a clean syringe for every used syringe brought in.  One of the HRCSCC’s biggest obstacle to its application’s approval was great community pressure due to misconceptions of need-based models. “Many community members believe syringe service programs lead to higher levels of syringe litter, especially needs-based programs.  However, needs-based programs have proven to be most effective in stopping litter.”  Drysdale emphasized the benefits of a needs-based program, “It’s so much better because in one-to-one models a used syringe becomes a commodity.  Instead of disposing it safely at the first opportunity, you have to hang on to it longer.  The longer you have it, the more likely it is to become litter, due to cop interactions and what-not.  The more we can decommodify syringes, make it seen as bio-waste and not a ticket to a new syringe, the more disposal will happen.”  The Program Coordinator likened it to, “collecting garbage in your house to bring to grocery store to get food. It’s flawed reasoning and not best practice.” 

Drysdale had much to say about changed site operations during COVID, “Our services all operate outside. It’s always been frustrating that more funded programs frequently have had drop-in centers, while we’ve been outside.  However, that made it easier to adapt to COVID best practices… We’ve cut down volunteer numbers significantly to limit risk. Everyone is six feet apart. We provide masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer throughout the no-contact service.  All operations follow the best practices outlined by the CDPH and other syringe organizations.” 

Another HRCSCC service has proved vital during COVID, their home delivery service, which no other syringe services program offers in the County.  Drysdale advocated for the service particularly during COVID, “If you’re somebody sheltering in place, you don’t want to go into a program or go indoors.  This [delivery service] allows someone to do a contactless drop-off, socially distanced, and inform participants about harm reduction, in a non-judgmental, non-coercive way.   With this service, we can really develop personal relationships with folks that normally buy online syringes online.  We can direct them to many resources and share our knowledge to many new participants.” 

If you’d like to know more about the Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County check out their website, hrcofscc.com, for information on their services, best syringe program practices, art, and the 10 biggest misconceptions about Harm Reduction.

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