A homeless center for youths in San Francisco has found success reducing overdoses and helping addicted teens find sobriety through harm reduction.
“(We) now have a suboxone clinic at our syringe access site! This is a huge lifesaver, removing bureaucratic roadblocks from the paths of people who want to get off opiates,” said Mary Howe, executive director of Homeless Youth Alliance (HYA) in San Francisco.
“Now young people, who are in withdrawal, can come to HYA’s site—a place where they already feel safe—and have a consultation with our physician, who, after evaluating them, can immediately call in a prescription to be picked up at a nearby pharmacy.
“And because of the close trusting relationships we build with youth, we’re able to help them build on the momentum of getting treatment, by helping them navigate the challenges of recovery, find safe housing, get mental health counseling, and so much more.”
Suboxone is commonly prescribed by qualified physicians to help opioid addicts reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms, according to the California Association for Alcohol and Drug Education.
One of the program’s success stories is a former addict Audry.
“HYA was practically the only place I could go and not feel like a piece of meat or a piece of s***,” she said. (They) cared for me until I cared for myself and fought for me to fight for myself. Letters to jail, accepting phone calls, going to court dates…free snacks, ’cause you know no dollars went to food and if it wasn’t free, I didn’t eat.
“Mary and company showed me what it feels like to show up for others and myself. HYA made getting clean and giving back look desirably punk rock.
“HYA kept me alive long enough to actually build a life I don’t want to escape from.”
Audry is now sober, married and a devoted mother and music photographer working in San Francisco.
“I love Audry’s statement because it underscores what HYA’s really about. As someone with a similar history, I was able to change the direction of my life in large part because harm reduction taught me that there’s something truly subversive and rebellious about proving hate and dismissiveness wrong, and showing kids like me should be invested in, not written off,” Howe said.
HYA Outreach Counselors and therapists work on the streets in the Haight Ashbury and Castro neighborhoods, where transient youths are often found in San Francisco.
“Our counselors…help young people process and troubleshoot the daily traumas they’re dealing with: overdose, HIV and violence, to serious health conditions from having no dry socks or access to showers,” Howe said.
“These young people are dealing with the day-to-day traumas of homelessness against a backdrop that’s getting darker and scarier.
“All we can do is to continue to let them know they have a safe haven (with) us. We provide that haven, even though, almost four years after the lease termination that put us on the street, we still don’t have a drop-in-center where youth can take a shower, eat a hot meal and get a moment of respite. The loss of our space continues to deeply affect the neighborhood as a whole.”
Despite having many challenges, HYA counselors in 2017 managed to make 9,368 contacts on outreach and held 954 individual one-to-one sessions. In addition, 596 youths attended 44 creative and educational groups, according to data given by HYA.
“To continue to meet the growing need…due to lack of indoor services in this neighborhood and lack of affordable housing in San Francisco—we need your help,” Howe said.
“When you donate, you enable us to hire and retain the very best and most effective staff…your support means dry socks, healthy snacks, Narcan training (opiate overdose reversal drug), which saves hundreds of lives. In short, your support means opportunities given, lives changed, and lives saved,” Howe added.
To donate or for more information contact:
Tides Center/Homeless Youth Alliance
P.O. Box 170427
San Francisco, CA 94117 www.homelessyouthalliance.org
Any amount is encouraged.