Ypsilanti Township cancels HARC needle exchange program

By |2018-01-15T21:20:39-05:00October 13th, 2005|News|

By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP – On Sept. 20, before public comment even began, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees ended the HIV/AIDS Resource Center’s needle exchange program in the township’s jurisdiction by a vote of 6-0 with one abstention. The program had been in operation continuously since January 2003 through an exemption to the township’s ordinances against the possession and delivery of drug paraphernalia.
A complaint by residents in the Gault Village neighborhood area was the catalyst that ultimately brought the issue before that board. That complaint was resolved in meetings with HARC, but the board committee charged with looking into the issue recommended terminating the program on the grounds that the AIDS prevention organization had not requested renewals of the exemption and had begun operating in new sites without prior approval from either residents or the board.
Ultimately, however, the decision came down to “a philosophical issue,” according to Board Supervisor Ruth Ann Jamnick.
At issue, said Jamnick, was the question of whether the program was stemming the tide of HIV or simply encouraging the continuance of a bad habit. “Everyone was concerned about the health issue but the heavier part was continuing the support of an unhealthy habit,” she said.
The committee’s written recommendation to terminate the program concluded, “Regardless of site location, the philosophical differences between the public health and law enforcement models regarding injection drug use will continue to exist, as will the perceived negative impact on nearby neighborhoods.”
A Sept. 12 response to the committee’s recommendation submitted by Director of Prevention Programs Nicole Adelman denies that HARC was ever told of a need to re-apply for the exemption.
“Following the November 2003 meeting of the Ypsilanti Township Board, HARC staff were told the exemption was granted for a year, would be renewed annually with all other township contracts, and no further meetings were required to be attended. No guidance was given on adding or changing sites, and no expiration date was written on the exemption.”
As for the residents’ complaints, Adelman told BTL that, after meeting with the Gault Village Neighborhood Watch group, “They actually were quite supportive of our program, they just didn’t want it located there.” As a result of the complaint, HARC discontinued the program in that particular neighborhood.
Adelman seemed surprised by the committee’s ultimate recommendation against the program.
“During all the meetings they were actually quite supportive,” she said.
In an attempt to sway the Board of Trustees to ignore the committee’s decision and continue the exemption, roughly thirteen people spoke at the Sept. 20 meeting on HARC’s behalf, said Adelman. Only one person present spoke against needle exchange, Adelman said.
“These people really spilled their guts. The decision was made before the public comments, which I think was quite unfair,” Adelman said.
Jamnick agreed that the Board had come to a decision without first hearing the public comment.
“I would hope that the board is willing to look at this again,” Jamnick said.
Heather Mooney, a case manager at the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County who spoke at the board meeting, said she was “devastated” by the decision.
“I was so amazed by the outpouring of awareness and education and concern – and they just threw it back in our faces,” she said.
“They must have pre-determined, come into it with their decision made and completely closed to the entire discussion,” Mooney continued. “How are they going to outreach to this community in a positive way that will create change?”
HARC’s contention in the written response to the board committee that discontinuing the program would lead to an “Increased spread of HIV and hepatitis C,” seems to be borne out by research conducted by the Federal Government prior to the Bush administration.
According to a 1998 Department of Health and Human Services report, “More than 70 percent of HIV infections among women of childbearing age are related either directly or indirectly to injection drug use…. In March 1997, the National Institutes of Health published the Consensus Development Statement on Interventions to Prevent HIV Risk Behaviors. That report concluded that needle exchange programs ‘show a reduction in risk behaviors as high as 80 percent in injecting drug users, with estimates of a 30 percent or greater reduction of HIV.'”
Speak OUT
Contact the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees and tell them your opinion about the importance of needle exchange programs in fighting HIV/AIDS. The board can be reached at Township Civic Center, 7200 S. Huron River Dr., Ypsilanti, MI, 48197, or contact Supervisor Ruth Ann Jamnick at 734-481-0617.

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.