When police respond to 911 calls about people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises, the results can be lethal.
Instead, there’s growing momentum not just for defunding police, but for investing in harm reduction practices — ones that don’t criminalize people experiencing homelessness or substance misuse, but approach these issues as public health matters that are best handled with communal resources.
The idea behind harm reduction is that looking at people not as criminals, but individuals experiencing a public health crisis, leads to better outcomes.
Barbara DiPietro of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council
In San Francisco’s Tenderloin District ― an area historically associated with rampant crime rather than its status as a victim of gentrification ― St. James Infirmary provides harm reduction for sex workers by sex workers, in the form of hormone therapy, mental health support, STI and HIV tests and counseling and needle exchange services.
“It’s about quality of life,” Jones said, which means, in part, helping people live without constant fear of arrest or police harassment ― especially for people of color, who often avoid harm reduction resources out of concern for police presence.