Meet Terry Morris, our Syringe Access Services (SAS) Program Manager. She oversees a passionate group of staff members and volunteers who provide services at our 6th Street Harm Reduction Center. The Harm Reduction Center, located in the SOMA/Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, provides a variety of critical services to people in the neighborhood—including safer injection supplies, overdose prevention training and medication, HIV testing, and hepatitis C services.
One of the most vulnerable populations served by the Harm Reduction Center is women who inject drugs. In fact, in San Francisco, about half of all women living with HIV have been infected through injection drug use.
We asked Terry to tell us how the Harm Reduction Center serves the most vulnerable populations and how she hopes to see the center grow in the future.
What are the services that 6th Street Harm Reduction Center offers?
Our amazing staff and volunteers support the center for 44 hours a week, providing safe injecting and safer sex kits, as well as testing services for HIV and hepatitis C. We also serve as an ear for anyone who comes in – offering counseling, limited medical care, or just a safe place to stay for a while.
Why is it important for the Harm Reduction Center to offer services for women?
In San Francisco, IV drug use is the number one cause of HIV infections in women, which is just astounding. But even though we are able to connect women with services, both locally and in other metro areas, women face a lot of barriers in accessing clean syringe services.
Why do you think there are so many barriers?
Well it is complicated and a lot of it has to do with stigma associated with being a woman who uses drugs. For example, if someone is a mother, the custody of her children could be at risk if it is discovered that she is a drug user while she’s seeking services.
Women can also have trouble accessing services because of where they’re located. Simply getting to our Harm Reduction Center can be difficult if women fear harassment on the way into the clinic. I spoke with one woman who told me that her boyfriend is abusive, but from her perspective, that’s just one man – if she is out on the street, she is at risk for encountering multiple abusive men.
How is the Harm Reduction Center increasing access to services for women?
One thing that we are thinking about for the future is creating a woman-only space for our clients. Many of our programs and group counseling sessions are open to anyone who comes. I hope that by offering a group that’s just for women, we’ll be able to cultivate a safer space and match more of these clients with the proper care.
We also serve a lot of transwomen, who face an added level of stigma around drug use and gender. So one way we’re looking to better serve this community is to partner with the program, TransLife, and bring in volunteers who have that shared experience and can offer a different perspective.
It’s only been six months since we expanded our service hours and we’ve already made such an impact that I can’t wait for what the future holds.
What keeps you motivated to serve this community?
I am really impressed by our staff and volunteers, and the passion they have for working at the center. Personally, I love connecting with our clients and getting to know their unique stories and helping them through whatever it is they’re going through.
Recently, I got to know a 50-year-old woman who has injected heroin for years. She is also living with hep C and stage four cirrhosis of the liver, so she’s on the waiting list for an organ transplant. In talking to her, she made it clear that it is just incredibly lonely and that she is afraid of dying alone. But because she had the courage to come see us, we’ve been able to connect her with support groups which has made her life much more enjoyable. Being able to help out like that makes it worth it!
Syringe Access Services (SAS) staff reach some of our city’s most marginalized people. SAS staff, at our clinic on 6th street and through our mobile outreach, act as a “bridge” to people that may not be connected to other kinds of care. The foundation provides over 2 million syringes to people in San Francisco each year, plus harm reduction supplies like alcohol wipes and sterile cookers and water. SAS staff have helped HIV-positive people get into medical care, figure out where to get free meals or reduced-cost food, have given referrals and warm hand-offs to agencies that help with housing, and taken the time to help individual clients with problems in their lives. SAS also provides hepatitis C testing and referrals for treatment, and Narcan (overdose prevention) training and medication.
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