A group from Calgary is looking to reduce harm in Lethbridge by opening a space to provide clean needles, sex education and more to help protect vulnerable people from contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases or infections.
Since sharing needles, syringes or other drug-injection equipment is one of the main ways people can get HIV, the group’s mandate is to help create safer communities by providing clean supplies in order to reduce risk.
“We are in the process of receiving the permit,” said Ana Glavan, the acting executive director from HIV Community Link.
“There is a period of 21 days where we are expecting a response from the city.”
The organization’s website states that it currently provides supports for people living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and it also has testing available for STDs.
Supplies to practise safe sex are provided as well, along with help navigating community resources and connections to services, including addiction treatment, housing, funding, basic need and employment supports.
Glavan said along with their hope to provide educational and other preventative supports, the group will be helping with cleanup efforts when it comes to picking up used needles and other items in order to help keep public spaces safe.
“When we say we distribute, we also help clean any kind of debris we find and we want to partner with anyone that is interested in supporting the community,” she said.
Glavan said they have no plans to open up a supervised consumption site in Lethbridge.
She added that the group has no affiliation with ARCHES, Lethbridge’s first and only SCS site, which closed last summer after the province pulled its funding.
HIV Community Link has been delivering services in Alberta for 37 years in both Calgary and Medicine Hat. As of last fall, its legacy expanded to Lethbridge.
“We started doing outreach in October 2020 when there was a gap in services,” Glavan explained.
She said since many vulnerable people may not always have access to online supports, it’s important for them to go out into communities to help raise awareness and provide help in whichever way they can.
With more than 26,000 reported cases of HIV and STIs in Alberta in 2019, according to the government, Glavan hopes the organization can help bring those numbers down by targeting at-risk populations.
Tim Slaney, a member of the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society (LOPS), said he is very happy to hear about HIV Community Link’s plans.
“We’ve been very concerned about the shortages of harm-reduction supplies in the community,” he said.
Slaney went on to say LOPS has noticed an uptick in people sharing injection equipment.