VICTORY! Newport passes syringe access exchange

Members of DSA, NKJPC, and KFTC Celebrate After Newport Vote!

Tonight, on February 26, the Newport City Commission voted unanimously to approve a Syringe Access Exchange! This was the result of concentrated grassroots work lead by Newport residents over the past 5 months.

This past October several Newport residents began attending City Commission meetings to talk about the need for syringe access exchange, often referred to as a needle exchange, in their community. Partnering with Democratic Socialists of America of Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, they began a campaign to build support for the exchange in their community.

They began knocking on doors shortly after, and approached ally organizations to sign on to the campaign. In December, Simon Powell, a leader in the local DSA and member of the Northern Kentucky chapter, asked the chapter to officially sign on in support of the campaign. The chapter has been active in recovery work in the past with allies like People Advocating Recovery, and quickly agreed to sign on.

As the campaign moved forward, with residents continuing to meet with city leaders, speak at meetings and talk with their neighbors, it became clear they were making headway. The Northern Kentucky Health Department provided needed information about the increasing risk of HIV and Hepatitus outbreaks in the region, with clusters of concerns in places like Newport, Silver Grove, Covington, Florence and Erlanger. Newport City Commissioner Ken Rechtin referenced the work around this issue at the chapter's Unpack Politics forum in November, saying that the work of residents of the Westside neighborhood had moved himself and other members of the commission to being in favor of an exchange.

In January DSA drafted a letter calling for the commission to act, and asked allies to sign on. The local KFTC chapter and allies at Northern Kentucky Justice and Peace did, and helped circulate it to local businesses, drop it off during canvasses and sharing it on social media. At the same time, members planned a community conversation with the health department, Newport residents and others to talk about what types of exchanges looked like.

The community conversation saw more than 60 people crowd into New Hope Christian Center in Newport to hear what proponents had to say. Rose Curtin, another leader in DSA and KFTC member, spoke about how it was past time for an exchange; how dirty needles were in our communities already, and that an exchange would be the first step in helping build a healthier community. She talked of those she knew and cared for who were victims of addiction, and the struggles children who are put into the system deal with.

This was followed by a presentation from members of the Northern Kentucky Health Department about the potential impact that a program could have in stopping HIV and Hepatitis outbreaks, as well as encouraging people to seek treatment for addiction.

On February 12, the Newport City Commission had a public caucus meeting that DSA livestreamed on facebook. KFTC, DSA and Northern Kentucky Justice and Peace Committee helped make sure the room was standing room only, and one by one the city commissioners talked about how it was time to take up the topic of needle exchange. It was clear that the time had come, and once they opened up the floor for questions from residents, not a one opposed the idea of having an exchange. The only question was what would the details be.

The next meeting was February 26, and the allies again called for turnout. Again the meeting was standing room only, and the Northern Kentucky KFTC Chapter livestreamed the meeting's successful vote.

Though people are excited for the victory, they know more work is needed to be done. Folks plan on canvassing in Newport about the exchange once it opens, and on Tuesday, February 27 will be at the Covington City Commission meeting to encourage the city to honor its commitment to a needle exchange, and to enact one at least as strong as the Newport plan. Allies hope to eventually have more exchanges open across northern Kentucky, with greater opportunities regarding availability and ability to access other health department services at exchange sites.

DSA leader and KFTC member Daniel Merrill described the organic, grassroots growth of the campaign: "Organizationally we had to learn to do this from scratch ... we came up and designed it outsleves as we were doing it. One of the most postiive things we've [DSA] done. People were so happy to see us and talk about the work. A lot of people were excited to see us there, and we are excited to go back. This is just the beginning of our work in the west side of Newport."