by Maximilian Eyle
For nearly 30 years, Saint Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction (SACHR), has been an active force in the South Bronx. They work with drug users, the homeless, and other at-risk groups in need of assistance. The organization’s founder, Joyce Rivera, formed the organization during the early 1990s in an effort to help reduce the spread of HIV and other dangers threatening the community. Unlike other programs that demand abstinence, SACHR’s mission is concerned with harm reduction. “We do not wait for people to choose to quit life-threatening behaviors,” a SACHR spokesperson explains. “Instead, we create a safe haven where participants can consider their personal choices and begin to move toward manageable changes.”
SACHR offers so many resources and services that it can be difficult to keep track. One of their primary programs is that of needle exchange. When drug users share needles, the risk for HIV, HEP-C, and other infections grow considerably. This was a major contributor to the AIDs epidemic years ago. By providing free, clean needles to those who need them – SACHR is able to ensure that those who choose to use drugs are doing so with less risk to themselves and others. This has been shown to be one of the most effective strategies against the spread of HIV and other diseases. In addition to these measures, SACHR offers mental health counseling, free meals, acupuncture, yoga, HIV and HEP-C testing, showers, and laundry services to those in need.
Overdose treatment using Naloxone is also an important part of SACHR’s outreach efforts. Program Coordinator Nelson Gonzalez regularly trains people in how to administer the overdose-reversing medication and distribute kits to those who want it. “The opioid crisis is a new thing for America, but an old thing for the South Bronx,” says Gonzalez. He himself has been working in the harm reduction field for 20 years. A recent press release from the organization critiques how this issue is regarded in the media: “The media will quickly profit from a drug related celebrity death through obituaries and sometimes sensationalist reporting, e.g., the opioid related deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Prince, John Belushi, and others. But not one obituary will recall the lives of the 1,300+ reported overdoses that claimed the lives of ordinary New Yorker’s in 2016.”
Today, the organization is expanding their facility and growing their outreach efforts. Founder Joyce Rivera continues to serve as the Executive Director and the organization is largely led and run by Hispanic women. I sat with her in her office as she explained the plans SACHR has for its upcoming expansion. Gesturing down the block, her eyes shined as she described how she had gone to elementary school in the very same neighborhood. SACHR represents her life’s work. Both she and the community are lucky to have each other.
Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.