How can we respond to harm without punishment, even now during the COVID crisis?
Our frontline workers & grassroots experts have the answers!
In San Francisco, COVID has exacerbated both the housing and poverty crises as well as the opioid epidemic. For the past several years, San Francisco has faced a serious problem with opioid overdose, as 1 in 6 cardiac arrest deaths in SF were fatal overdoses and fentanyl and heroin overdoses more than doubled in 2019. Now, Covid cases continue to rise as well, with the number of Bay Area cases tripling over the past 6 weeks. The isolation resulting from the requirements of social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus has led to an increased risk of fatal overdose. Kristen Marshall, with the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE) Project at the Harm Reduction Coalition and one of our speakers for next week’s event, told the SF Chronicle: “We know people are more likely to pass away from an overdose, simply because they are alone,” as shelter-in-place and social distancing cuts people off from life-saving relationships, options and support.
Miss Ian (center), another one of our event speakers, preparing harm reduction supplies at SF Drug Users Union on Turk St with volunteer Michael Richardson (left) and Frances Fu (right; DOPE Project). Photo from SF Chronicle by Scott Strazzante
COVID has also exposed the reality of jailing and imprisonment being a public health crisis in and of itself, with 452% higher covid infection rates in the prisoner population than California overall. After San Francisco released hundreds of people from its jails earlier this Spring in an effort to stop the spread of COVID inside, the numbers of folks arrested and jailed in the city are increasing. With overdoses dramatically increasing and unemployment reaching historic highs, we can assume many of the arrests may be drug related. While the situation is dire for us all, our most vulnerable are the most affected.
Rather than responding to these compounded crises through imprisonment, policing, criminalization and stigmatization, our city must prioritize creative, resourceful and straight-forward problem-solving that upholds care and honors and protects human dignity. In San Francisco, it is our service providers, community organizations and frontline workers who have been showing us the way out of this crisis, using harm reduction and decriminalization approaches where they meet people where they are at and provide them with the resources they need to survive, no matter what. Check out what this looks like in this video below featuring one of our Abolition in Action speakers, GLIDE’s Harm Reduction Case Manager Felanie Castro, as Felanie shows how GLIDE uses their community outreach van to disrupt isolation, stigmatization and marginalization by distributing resources like tents, meals, water, syringe access services, and smoking services even during shelter-in-place.