ID: HR23-323
Presenting author: Bec Thatcher

Presenting author biography:

Bec is a Social Worker who has worked in harm reduction, homelessness and health settings. Bec has been the Program Manager of Access Health: Primary Health Care and the St Kilda 24/7 NSP for the past 10 years driven by her passion for a compassionate, sensible and fair world.

Solidarity Persists: a harm reduction service standing strong against the forces of gentrification

Bec Thatcher, Brigid Buick
Rooming houses have closed, making way for renovation reality TV to infiltrate our community, turning low-cost accommodation places into multimillion-dollar apartments. Community drop-in centres alike, have shut their doors and been turned into cafes filled with white paint and a splattering of indoor plants. Public walls once beautified by layers of street-art placed there organically, both radical and local in nature, now display contracted, commercial murals promoting a corporate business or paying hollow homage to a community that once was. Lampposts, once fulfilling their intended role of illumination, are now crowded with CCTV cameras that capture the streets’ activities and send them directly back to the local police department. The methadone dispensing pharmacy that sat for decades on prime real-estate has closed its doors, and we’re yet to know what it will be replaced with … more apartments?

Like so many other suburbs across the globe, St Kilda, in metro-Melbourne, has experienced gentrification. The local context has changed so dramatically over the past 20 years that the suburb is hard to recognise, a shadow of its former self. We, however, remain. Standing our ground since the early 90’s, Access Health provides a suite of harm reduction services including Australia’s only 24/7 staffed Needle and Syringe Program and a Primary Health Care service targeting the needs of people who inject drugs.

This is not an uncommon story. Services that function in areas taken over by a slow but sure tide of wealthy residents remain as a ‘bubble of solidarity’. Is this the fate of harm reduction programs in ever modernising capitalist structures? And how do we, not only survive, but adapt to changing norms and expectations? Our aim, of course, is to remain true to harm reduction philosophies. And perhaps they are the very philosophies that keep all of us united.