GLIDE Harm Reduction Volunteering
I began working in the Tenderloin two years ago when I started at Zendesk. Walking to work, I would often see used needles discarded in forgotten nooks or occasionally a person shooting up in between cars or in a back alley. I have a background in public health, and for me these sightings are not only shocking and despairing but also represent a greater public health issue for our community. Conceptually, I understand that sharing of syringes – a common practice for injection drug users – increases the spread of infectious disease such as HIV and Hepatitis C. This has greater negative social and economic impacts on our neighborhood. Even knowing this, however, I struggle with the problem of how I personally can be of help.
Enter GLIDE. As part of our regular employee volunteering program, Zendesk sends ten employees per month to GLIDE to work with the organization’s Harm Reduction Team. This dedicated group provides harm reduction services such as syringe access, exchange and disposal; overdose prevention education; safer injection and smoking kits; HIV/Hep C testing; and general outreach around the Tenderloin.
During a Zendesk volunteer session, we help assemble the safer injection kits, which include ten clean needles and supplies such as alcohol swabs, cotton and sterile water. The kits we put together also include pamphlets with information on how to use substances more safely, how to access other support services around the City and on overdose prevention.
Spending two hours building these kits with coworkers has become my personal favorite volunteer activity. Not only do we have an internal competition around how many containers we can fill (it is currently nine) but GLIDE is also a safe space to be respectfully curious. While we work away building kits, a member of the Harm Reduction team speaks candidly about the state of drug use in the area. Every time I volunteer, I am impressed with how many questions our group asks and with how the Harm Reduction team members take the time to answer our questions honestly.
I think a big part of feeling like you can be productive and helpful is having a better understanding of the whole picture. GLIDE’s Harm Reduction volunteering has helped to change my perspective. I leave each shift feeling less overwhelmed by my surroundings and more empowered because I better understand the situation and have meaningfully contributed to a program that truly makes an impact to improve the well-being of the entire community.
GLIDE’s HIV / Hep C and Harm Reduction Programs are located at GLIDE, 330 Ellis St., on the Fifth Floor. GLIDE provides HIV / Hep C testing and linkages to care / treatment, Syringe Access Services and Harm Reduction supplies, Monday through Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm and at our front lobby from 7:00pm – 9:00pm on Monday and Tuesday Evenings. Call Paul Harkin, Program Manager, 415.674.5180 for more information.
By Kelly Salance, Corporate Social Responsibility Program Coordinator for Zendesk and regular volunteer at GLIDE.