New York: Help for the At-Risk; Volunteers Fight HIV With Free Needles, Condoms
May 26, 2004
Throughout a recent Monday evening, a slow trickle of drug addicts and prostitutes stopped by an unmarked white van parked on Knickerbocker Ave. in Bushwick to get drug needles and condoms. Iris, a 28-year-old Manhattan escort, relapsed heroin addict and crack smoker, picked up 10 needles and a bag of condoms from a volunteer standing by the van. "I don't have hepatitis. I don't have HIV," she said. "You have to have clean works or else you'll catch a disease."
The van is part of the After Hours Project, a program started two years ago by Fernando Soto and Richard Curtis to stop the spread of AIDS in poor communities. Soto has worked at a daytime needle exchange program for 12 years, where he met Curtis. "My brother died of AIDS in '88. He was an IV drug user. Since then I decided that I would dedicate my life to helping people," explained Soto, who thought that a nighttime exchange better matched the lifestyles of drug users and sex workers. Since June 2002, Soto and two volunteers have driven their van around Bushwick and other Brooklyn neighborhoods three nights weekly, providing free syringes and condoms.
With limited funding from a few nonprofit agencies, the van is often parked to save gas. But that allows the outreach workers to get to know their clients well enough that they can encourage them to get HIV counseling or enter detox programs; a few have agreed. Over 800 drug users have participated in After Hours' needle exchange program. In addition, over 2,000 people have used the program's referral and emergency food services.
"It's not recognized, it's underpaid, it's underfunded," said Soto. "Unless it hits home -- your son, your daughter -- you're not gonna care."
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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.