Each month, the Office of Civic & Community Engagement (OCCE) profiles a community partner and its relationship with Wake Forest University. For the month of January, the OCCE is proud to feature Rachel Thornley, Program Manager of Twin City Harm Reduction Collective (TCHRC).
The Twin City Harm Reduction Collective seeks to improve the health and lives and advocate for the rights of people who use drugs in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and surrounding areas.
Rachel Thornley, Program Manager of Twin City Harm Reduction Collective
Could you explain the origin of Twin City Harm Reduction Collective, and how it impacts the Winston-Salem community?
Years ago, before syringe exchanges were legalized in North Carolina (2016), there was a man named Steven Daniels – a lot of people knew him as ‘Gator’ – and he would do underground syringe exchange work. He was going out into the community giving out syringes and Narcan from the trunk of his car and reaching out to the community of drug users in our area. Our co-founders Colin Miller and Erica Doss-Mishoe were both mentored by him, so they both got involved in doing harm reduction work with Gator out in the community.
When syringe exchanges were legalized, Colin and Erica opened a brick-and-mortar site for Twin City Harm Reduction Collective, which is located at the Green Street United Methodist Church. We’ve been at the Church since December of 2016, and primarily operate out of that site.
In 2019 we started our mobile unit, which we operate every Tuesday and Thursday by taking it out into the community. We stop by different homeless camps we know of that need supplies, and we bring supplies right to people’s doors. Having the mobile unit has helped us better serve our community and increase our outreach capacity.
How does the partnership with Wake Forest through the Winston-Salem Community Action Coalitionhelp Twin City Harm Reduction Collective?
Being a part of the coalition has been great; it’s been amazing.
I run the day-to-day program on my own, so it’s been awesome to have the opportunity to host a VISTA member and have an extra set of hands and eyes. It’s someone to help me so that everything isn’t on my plate. While the extra help is wonderful, having the opportunity to show them what we do and why we do it is just as rewarding. Over time you see how they learn to understand more about harm reduction, syringe exchange, and the policy surrounding it all, is great. Not only that, but to watch them grow as individuals and professionals while they’re with us has been equally as wonderful.
If you had 30 seconds to tell someone about Twin City Harm Reduction Collective, what would you want them to know?
TCHRC has a big impact on our participants and the drug users in our community. It’s a place for them to learn that they can take care of themselves, and they can take steps to be healthier even though they’re actively using drugs. For a lot of people it’s one of the only places that they come to where they actually feel seen and heard, and can be 100% honest about their drug use.
I think it’s important for people to understand that TCHRC is more than just passing out syringes and Narcan. There are real connections that happen, and the impact that it has on our participants is amazing to see. In my experience, a lot of people I’ve encountered don’t think about that when they think about syringe exchanges. Twin City Harm Reduction is an exchange program, but we also facilitate trainings and educate and organize around legislation. We believe that everything we do is more effective because of the hard work and expertise of drug users.
How can people get involved with Twin City Harm Reduction Collective?
Right now we’re really focusing our volunteer recruitment toward directly impacted individuals. That would include folks who either themselves are in some way impacted by drug use – either they’re in recovery or actively using – or have a close family member that uses.
When COVID restrictions allow, we take on volunteers to help at our fixed-site. We also sometimes will host Narcan parties, where we’ll have multiple people come in to package hundreds of Narcan kits.
In addition, we do a neighborhood street sweep on the last Saturday of every month. We canvas the neighborhood around the exchange, pick up litter, and look for discarded syringes or paraphernalia around the neighborhood. That is something that we’re always recruiting volunteers to help with, and it’s outdoors so social distancing is easy to maintain. Interested volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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