Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What is 'Street Outreach'?

Street Outreach means building trust & relationships with people experiencing homelessness and poverty where they are: ON THE STREETS. Street Outreach means listening attentively, sharing harm reduction information, community resources, advocacy, & HOPE! Yellow Brick Road outreach workers walk the streets of Portland, Oregon EVERY NIGHT OF THE YEAR meeting youth and youth-identified adults who may want some assistance getting their lives on healthier & happier paths. We tend to focus on folks under 30, but remember: OUR SERVICES & SUPPLIES ARE AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE IN THE PORTLAND, OREGON COMMUNITY! If you need some assistance or simply an open ear or new pair of socks and a band aid, just look for the folks carrying the bags with bright yellow patches. If you live in the Portland area and are over 18 and wish to volunteer, contact us today to get involved.

What is 'Harm Reduction'?

There is a lot of controversy and misinformation about what Yellow Brick Road outreach workers often refer to as "Harm Reduction". Some people think that harm reduction techniques, such as providing free condoms and safer drug use information, encourages (or enables) young people to have sex or use illegal drugs. This is simply not true. Yellow Brick Road utilizes harm reduction principles because we recognize that some people in our community will choose to have sex and/or use illegal drugs whether these behaviors are safe, ethical, lawful or NOT. We recognize that behavior such as illegal drug use represents a continuum of choices from abstinence (or non-use) on one end of the spectrum, to severe abuse or even serious illness and death on the other. Yellow Brick Road simply chooses to look realistically (and non-judgementally) at an individual's choices in an effort to provide tools, techniques, and resources to make such behavior more safe while we attempt to motivate healthier lifestyle changes. Yellow Brick Road believes that harm reduction principles offer effective & thoughtful (even economical) responses to health crisises in our community. In an effort to further demystify and explain harm reduction, the following information is excerpted from the Harm Reduction Coalition's 'Principles of Harm Reduction'. For more info about harm reduction contact HRC.

Principles of Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a set of practical actions that reduce negative consequences of drug use, incorporating a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use, to abstinence.
Harm reduction:
* Accepts, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.

* Understands drug use as a complex, multi- faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.

* Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being--not necessarily cessation of all drug use--as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.

* Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.

* Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.

*Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.

* Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people's vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.

* Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.

Since 1984

There is a great deal of talk among social workers about meeting the folks we make it our business to serve “where they are at.” This phrase rolls off the tongue nicely and refers to the practice of adjusting our level of engagement according to an individual’s current ability, disposition, and cooperation. Downtown at the outreach components of Janus Youth Programs, Yellow Brick Road & PDX: O&E, we take this principle to heart and take pride in meeting the folks we serve, quite literally, where they’re at.

Our trained community volunteers and streetwork teams have explained blood-borne pathogens in the unzipped doorways of tents, discussed abscess infections around smoldering campfires in vacant industrial lots, made lists of goals under bridges and overpasses, and kept curious rats at bay while demonstrating appropriate wound dressings at the waterfront. We’ve arrived on Union Pacific Railroad property with our van and packed young people, their pets, and few possessions out from under bridges and into Porchlight and Streetlight Youth Shelter. In just the past few weeks, at least 5 young men and women from a single encampment have begun the arduous journey from living behind walls of pallets and tattered wool blankets to shelter bunk beds and beyond.

It takes weeks, often months, of relationship building to prepare an individual to make the leap of faith required to attempt even a single night indoors. And we know they don’t always remain. These are young men and women who all too often measure the trajectory of life not in diplomas, degrees, and promotions but in scars, miles, and medications. Some will cycle in and out of treatment programs, shelters, case management, and other supportive services for years. But we’re persistent. And we’ll be there when they’re ready.

Our volunteers and streetwork teams are on the streets of Portland every night, rain or shine. Often rain. It is difficult to estimate the impact on human lives, human dignity, this kind of consistent compassion and eye-to-eye advocacy has leant to the streets of Portland since Yellow Brick Road’s inception in 1984. It is far easier to calculate the basic needs we’ve met by simply being present and attentive night after night. In January 2006, Yellow Brick Road recorded 2,688 contacts in a single month. That’s 386 pairs of brand new socks distributed to those in need. 278 warm hats. 354 pairs of winter gloves. And January is traditionally the quietest and slowest month of the year.

In the past few months Yellow Brick Road has provided intensive training and street knowledge for a recently launched outreach program in Grants Pass, Oregon and will soon expand our services to include outreach in areas of Washington. Our recently revised and comprehensive Resource Guide has expanded to 81 pages and is utilized by all the Janus Youth Programs as well as Portland Community College. We welcome anyone who wishes to visit our offices or learn more about outreach, to contact us. Perhaps you will meet us where we’re at. On the streets.

Yellow Brick Road Street Outreach Program