City of Eureka Poised to Embrace Needle Exchange, Oust Panhandlers


Brandie Wilson, founder of Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction (HACHR), says her organization has saved at least a dozen lives in 2016, thanks to its distribution of Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal drug. HACHR has been able to give Naloxone to drug users within Humboldt County, along with 2,000 clean needles. Now the Eureka City Council is preparing to formally endorse this work.

The resolution, which is slated for tomorrow's city council meeting, refers to the rate of Hepatitis C infections in Humboldt County, which is currently three times the state and national average. Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted through the sharing of needles during intravenous drug use. 

Wilson said Mayor Frank Jager was very helpful during the process of developing the resolution, and she is "excited" that it will be on the consent calendar for tomorrow's meeting. 

"They’re treating it really well," says Wilson, adding that since HACHR has gained the cooperation of a local physician, needle exchange has expanded. "We’ve been getting back more needles than we’ve been giving out."

The formal approval of the city council will allow HACHR to seek federal and state grant funding. 

Another item on the calendar addresses aggressive panhandling within the city, amending the existing ordinance to prohibit panhandling or "aggressive solicitation" in median strips, driveways, gas stations, bus stops and at vehicles stopped at intersections. 

Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills, whose department reviewed the proposed revisions to the ordinance, says his officers have "seen people doing very risky behavior" during the course of panhandling, and believes the proposed ordinance will be a step in preventing said behavior but, "it's not a panacea."

Councilmember Kim Bergel says she's "looking forward" to the item being on the agenda; it was scheduled and discussed in December but ultimately pushed forward as the council weathered debate on whether or not to declare a shelter crisis. Bergel has spoken several times about research that indicates panhandling does not help reduce or address the needs of the homeless.

"When we give to panhandlers we do it because it feels good, we don’t realize that it exacerbates the problem," she says. "If people knew what they were spending their money on, they probably wouldn’t do it."

The council meeting, which is begins tomorrow at 6 p.m., will also include discussions about the return of a mine-resistant armored vehicle owned but not used by EPD for the past three years to the federal government, the formal adoption of a joint resolution with the County Board of Supervisors to adopt a Housing First strategy for the city, and the 2016 capital improvement program.

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