International Journal of Drug Policy - 2014

Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2014

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Page 127 of 153

628 P.J. Davidson, M. Howe / International Journal of Drug Policy 25 (2014) 624–632 hood, or described their "two babies at home who shouldn't be exposed to this sort of thing." Almost all of these speakers appeared to consider it self-evident that children and services for homeless youth should not be in close proximity (let alone children and a needle exchange); that merely drawing attention to this proximity would cause the Department of Public Health to block the proposed move. The closest thing to an explicit linking of service provision to a subsequent negative effect on children came from a comment made by the partner of one of the organizers of the 'anti-' group, 5 who stated "I'm not sure if I'm going to have children, but if I was to have children I'd like to think the neighbourhood they grew up in would be a safe place for them, and having a needle exchange here would be a bad thing for that." Under siege The third major theme, also extending from and overlapping with the narrative of social services attracting people who would not otherwise be in the area, was the idea of being 'under siege' by, and having to "deal with", the consequences of pervasive homeless- ness: public defecation; public intoxication and fighting; discarded needles in gardens; theft; defecation; being threatened or verbally abused by homeless youth; garbage; urine on sidewalks; defeca- tion; homeless people sleeping in doorways; and violent dogs kept by the homeless. And defecation. 6 These complaints, while easily summarized due to their repetitive nature, consumed at least half the speaking time of those opposing HYA's move. Notably, in these complaints the housed residents were joined by a small number of speakers who identified themselves as business owners operat- ing on Haight Street itself, who also complained of "the mess" they needed to clean up each morning before opening their businesses, and their fears that homeless, mentally ill, and/or intoxicated peo- ple were driving away business. The failures of HYA Finally, also relating to complaints about the role of social services in 'attracting' people to the Haight, were complaints or negative comments about HYA itself. Interestingly, and in sharp contrast to our expectations, those who specifically addressed HYA's mission usually did so in terms which gave lip-service to the basic concept: "We know needle exchange is needed to control AIDS, but· · ·", or "I'm not opposed to needle exchange, but· · ·", with the 'but' being often quite literally "but I don't want it right next to me." One speaker caused an unintentional moment of levity by stating without apparent irony "I'm not a NIMBY, but I really don't want this service right in my backyard." Instead of opposing needle exchange on principle, speakers instead tended to repeat the accu- sations raised in the San Francisco Chronicle that HYA was "out of control". Few specified exactly what this meant to them, with the exception of those who complained that HYA was breaching the "rules" of needle exchange because it gave out needles to people who didn't bring any in, rather than insist on a strict one-for-one exchange. 7 Others expressed support for the concept of services 5 A computer programmer recently moved from the state of Georgia, who, as of 2012, had already moved on to another city. 6 In a post-meeting debrief, junior HYA staff expressed anger and laughing disbe- lief about the "obsession" with defecation, since many of those who spoke about the problems of defecation had also spent the past several years in virulent opposition to the City's proposal to install a single public toilet in the neighbourhood (Fishman, 2006). 7 While strict one-for-one exchange had been a common policy in the early 1990s when needle exchanges were first legalized in the United States, by 2007 San Francisco Department of Public Health policy actively required exchanges in San Francisco to provide up to ten needles to any person who has less than ten for homeless youth, but then asked if there was any evidence that the specific services that HYA offered had any measurable impact on homelessness, and rhetorically asked the Department of Pub- lic Health representatives present to provide "proof" that HYA was fulfilling contractual obligations. HYA as a positive force Speakers who spoke in support of HYA and the proposed move were for the most part more reactive than those who spoke against, in that many of their comments were clearly in response to statements made by earlier anti-HYA speakers. This was par- ticularly noticeable with respect to the idea that HYA was 'out of control' or ineffective at addressing the problems faced by its end- users—many supporters spoke of the professionalism of HYA and its staff, and emphasized that the neighbourhood would be more chaotic rather than less if HYA was not present to provide services to youth on the street. One speaker caused uproar by suggesting that at least some of those present might be glad of HYA one day, since statistically at least some of their children would experience diffi- culties with drug use later in life. Another individual in a suit and tie introduced himself as a local businessman, but then surprised many by going on to say he'd been homeless a decade earlier and the only reason he was still alive, let alone a productive tax-paying member of society, was that he'd received support and services from HYA. HYA's links to history Like those who spoke against HYA, supporters also often made reference to the character of the neighbourhood. Unlike those opposed to the move, however, HYA supporters made frequent ref- erence to the role of (post-1950s) history in shaping the meaning of the neighbourhood—for example, some speakers drew attention to the Haight as the birthplace of the Free Medical Clinic move- ment (a grass roots response to the lack of affordable healthcare in the United States which began with the Haight Ashbury Free Med- ical Clinic in the late 1960s (Weiss, 2005, p. 24ff)), and pointed out that HYA and its organizational predecessors had been delivering services to homeless youth in the Haight continuously since 1967. More broadly, HYA supporters talked about the neighbourhood's historic role as a "refuge" for outcasts; as a place where people had been coming "for a long time" to find community not available to them elsewhere; and, fundamentally, that homeless youth who lived in the neighbourhood were also 'legitimate' residents who had as much right to be there as those who could afford to buy multi-million dollar homes. Aftermath Two other community meetings were held over the next month, with rapidly decreasing attendance (only one resident attended the final meeting, gamely expressing his opposition to the move to the dozen or so DPH officials and needle exchange representa- tives politely arrayed in a circle around him). While the remaining meetings were being held, the Church requested HYA postpone further planning for a move. However, HYA's concerns about the stability of the lease at the existing premises were resolved after discussions with both the master lease holder and the owners, who both expressed distress at the treatment HYA had received at the Prop. I meeting and committed to ensuring the stability of HYA's premises. In addition it also became clear that internal fiscal and needles, including to those with no needles at all (San Francisco Department of Public Health Population Health & Prevention HIV Section, 2011, p. 11).

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