D.C.'s Ex-Dealers Back on Streets -- Saving Lives
August 27, 2009
Wards 7 and 8 are home to some of the District's highest HIV/AIDS infection rates and to what prevention experts call hard-to-reach populations, those who are least likely to be tested for and educated about the virus and the most likely to spread it. Now, an organization working to combat HIV/AIDS there is tapping the skills of local former drug dealers to conduct street outreach.
"We don't say in our job description that only drug dealers need apply, but the reality is that men and women who soldiered illegally on the streets have the skills for what we do," said A. Toni Young, executive director of the nonprofit Community Education Group (CEG).
"The same rapport you had with people you were selling drugs to, that's the same skill set you use to sell HIV and AIDS prevention," said Toni's nephew Terrence Young, a former dealer who now works with CEG. He demonstrated his technique in the parking lot of a 24-hour convenience store, calling out to a woman passing by. "Hey, I got something for you. I got some condoms here if you need them." She walked away with a fistful.
Young acknowledged critics' concerns that former dealers will return to criminal behavior. Two of 20 men and women who have completed CEG's program have stumbled since it began in October.
"If I've managed to hold onto 18 out of these 20, I'll live with that," said Young. "You have to consider that these workers have distributed more than 100,000 condoms east of the Anacostia River, they have tested more than 2,000 residents of wards 7 and 8, and they have referred more than 100 people to substance abuse care and treatment, and this area needs that."
"We're not just trying to give people a job," Young continued. "We're trying to change them, and change a community's dynamic."
08.26.2009; Darryl Fears
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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