AIDS New Brunswick Inc., a non-profit supporting the health and well-being of individuals living with HIV and AIDS, is now offering harm reduction service on wheels.
The group also assists community members struggling with addiction and mental health issues, circumstances that became even more challenging during the pandemic.
To offer accessible community-based support, the group is setting up shop in several locations around Fredericton. It is giving out health and hygiene supplies, as well as cold drinks, all from a rented van.
“We are providing all the tools they would need to be able to more safely use the drug of their choice, so we have injection, inhalation and snorting kits available,” said Amanda Diggins of AIDS N.B.
The purpose of the project is to prevent the spread of AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted and blood borne infections in the province.
“People are going to use it anyways, might as well have clean stuff,” said Donald McLeod, a Fredericton resident.
Diggings says the service is not only for drug users.
“We have a lot of folks coming up and saying ‘I’m really lonely in my house and I’m scared to go out’. So, we are able to maintain that distance by being outside and break down some of those social isolation barriers.”
The van program will cost the group almost $45,000 this summer. Last year, their needle exchange program cost around $160,000 and they handed out over 250,000 syringes.
“A lot of people get needles and cookers, and then the bins as well for safe disposal of the needles,” said Maddison Yerxa, an AIDS New Brunswick Harm Reduction Assistant.
With no cooling centers open due to the pandemic, people are also requesting water, sunscreen and snacks, says Yerxa.
To help keep the harm reduction services going, the Fredericton Community Foundation stepped in with a donation.
“This was one of our flagship grants, it was 62 thousand dollars, its going towards the mobile van service a support line and going out and delivering their service in the community,” said Kate Rogers, the Fredericton Community Foundation Executive Director.
In the coming months, AIDS N.B. will offer Fentanyl testing strips.
It will also expand up north, to hit the communities that currently don’t have needle exchanges.
“This has been such a success that we have decided to go forward with our van program that will be leaving once a month from Fredericton to Woodstock, Perth Andover Grand Falls and Edmonston,” said Amanda Diggins.