In 2019, a group of Harm Reduction activists met at Rebel Recovery in West Palm Beach and founded Florida Harm Reduction Collective. The Collective received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation in 2021 and currently has eight employees. After hiring an executive director and director of outreach and networking in early 2022, Florida Harm Reduction Collective continued to expand capacity throughout all areas in Florida. The organization’s current initiatives include outreach with vaccine navigation and HIV self-testing. The Collective also manages Florida’s mail-based naloxone distribution program and a buyer’s club for harm reduction organizations. Florida Harm Reduction Collective’s mission is to redefine public health by meeting individuals where they are at through syringe access, overdose prevention, and all healthcare needs in between.
By centering and amplifying the voices of communities and people of color, sex workers, drug users and others directly impacted by the war on drugs, the Collective is working towards a future free of infectious diseases, drug overdose, patrolling of body autonomy, systemic racism and mass incarceration.
Florida Harm Reduction Collective is composed of dozens of partners across the state and nation that support similar goals of decreasing the harms of drug use and eliminating the stigma associated with harm reduction. Partners include syringe service programs, overdose prevention programs, recovery community organizations and other community-based organizations. The Collective is hosting the 1st Annual Florida Harm Reduction Conference in September 2022.
Check out the Collective’s panel titled “State of Harm Reduction in Florida” at the National Harm Reduction Conference in Puerto Rico on Thursday, Oct. 13, from 6-7 p.m. to hear from boots on the ground affiliates and Community Advisory Board members
What got you involved in harm reduction? How did your organization get founded?
I was passionate about harm reduction before knowing this work had a name. A handful of years ago, after losing my mom to substance use, I started working in overdose prevention and was mentored by a harm reductionist who taught me everything I know. Florida Harm Reduction Collective was founded by activists with a passion for change. Tim Santamour’s leadership led to the legitimacy of the Collective and I am grateful to lead and contribute to the sustainability of this amazing organization.
What is the most important thing that people should know about your work?
It takes great collaborative efforts to do the work we are doing in the South and takes multiple partners across different sectors to get the work done. We are grateful for supportive partnerships across the state and nation amongst harm reduction organizations and advocates.
What specific populations do you work with at your SSP? How do you tailor your programming to these populations and their needs?
We prioritize meeting individuals where they are at, but we do not leave them there. Our populations of focus is PWUD/PWID, including sex workers and individuals who are unhoused. The Collective listens to community needs by encouraging participation on our Community Advisory Board, which also allows us to pay individuals with lived experience for their feedback on programming and initiatives.
We have seen the ways in which SSPs and community-based harm reduction programs have adapted services in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Could you speak to some of the innovative programming you’ve done?
We saw an increased need for mail-based services and had to adjust services to meet the needs of the population we serve. We also saw an increased need for services in person throughout COVID due to the increased risk of overdose (e.g., using alone, lack of support, etc.). Our outreach efforts across the state increased exponentially.
What has worked for you all during the age of COVID-19? What hasn’t worked?
Peer outreach workers were and continue to be at an increased risk with doing in person outreach. The push for mail based services opened up a new avenue to bring harm reduction to those who need it where they’re at.
Who makes your work possible? In what ways does this happen?
Every one of our staff, volunteers, board of directors, community advisory board members, partners, and supporters make this happen. To those leading the way before us and those that may continue the work after us—we are all change makers. I can’t stress the collaboration that’s involved and without such collaborative efforts, we couldn’t make the progress and difference that we do.
What enrages you when doing this work?
We still see the prevalence of stigma in our work each day. We still encounter lack of support in many areas and the political landscape often makes it difficult to navigate our work, thus creating unnecessary barriers to saving lives. It’s frustrating to encounter so many individuals who are unwilling to try and understand concepts like harm reduction.
What motivates you?
The people doing this work motivate me to push forward through the barriers and challenges. It’s the boots on the ground efforts that give me faith in humanity and inspire me to make change.
Hearing different stories, voices, and perspectives all with various lived experiences motivates me. Hearing and reading continuous testimonials from participants motivate me, too.
Follow along with the AIDS United blog as we feature the work of more of our harm reduction grantee partners in community every day. For more information about AIDS United’s harm reduction work, visit our website: https://aidsunited.org/our-initiatives/harm-reduction/.