The Housing First Model and harm reduction promote the values of self-determination, connection, and human rights. Many of the people living in housing first programs use drugs or engage in other risky behaviors. The idea of respecting people who use drugs and improving their access to healthcare services is not unique to the Housing First Model. The Harm Reduction Coalition has been at the forefront of the social justice movement to recognize and uphold the rights of drug users for over 20 years. This post highlights this incredible organization and some of their resources which can support the work of housing first case managers.
The Harm Reduction Coalition was founded in 1993 by a group of drug users, needle exchange providers, and community activists. It is a national organization with offices in New York, NY; Oakland, CA; and Washington D.C. They promote harm reduction policies, practices, and programs in an effort to restore dignity and health to the individuals and communities who are impacted by drug use. To pursue this mission they host a bi-annual National Harm Reduction Conference, provide training and technical assistance to community-based organizations, and advocate for policy changes. Through their policy work and organizing, they give people who use drugs a voice in the policies that affect their lives. The core issues they focus on include drug overdose, transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, addiction, and incarceration.
The Harm Reduction Coalition is currently undergoing a leadership transition. Allan Clear decided to resign as Executive Director earlier this year after 20 years of leadership, service, and commitment to the cause. In his time with the Harm Reduction Coalition, Allan touched many lives and has inspired a generation of service providers and advocates. Allan chose to move on so that he could work for the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and serve as their Director of Drug User Health. It’s a testament to the work of the Harm Reduction Coalition that harm reduction has gone from being considered a radical idea to a formalized element of governmental agencies’ approach to public health. Recently, the Harm Reduction Coalition appointed Monique Tula as Executive Director. She worked in the HIV field for the past 20 years. Monique’s career is marked by dedication to harm reduction and the inclusion of people living with HIV in the programs and policies that impact them.
When case managers have questions about drugs and drug use, their clients are usually the best resource to consult. The next place to consider looking for information is the Harm Reduction Coalition website. They maintain a number of resources that can help case managers navigate complicated issues that may come up. For instance, they have some great resources related to Hepatitis C including “If You Drink Alcohol and have Hepatitis C or HIV Read This!” For a more general overview of Hepatitis C and some harm reduction tips for people who use drugs, check out this pamphlet. For basic drug information on cocaine, heroin, or speed case managers can consult the Straight Dope Education Series. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine how a person who is injecting drugs can reduce harm. Getting Off Right is a safety manual that provides an in-depth look at strategies to improve the health and safety of people who inject drugs. If you have a client that is required to submit for drug testing but is still actively using, you may have questions about how long drugs can be detected in a person’s system. The Harm Reduction Coalition has a resource for that. The Harm Reduction Coalition also maintains a national database to enable providers to connect locally with harm reduction programs in their area. These are just some of the resources that case managers can find to improve their work with participants who use drugs. Alongside organizations like the Harm Reduction Coalition, housing first programs can recognize and uplift the voices of vulnerable communities and support their ability to pursue an improved quality of life and sense of well-being.