Hello! My name is Jessica and I am the new Executive Director at HACHR. It’s been a few weeks since I settled into my new role, so I wanted to take this opportunity to formally introduce myself! I have been with the organization since 2017. I started as an intern while completing my Master’s degree at HSU and was then hired in early 2018. In 2017 Brandie Wilson came to one of my grad level classes to speak about Harm Reduction and the work she was doing at HACHR. Her discussion moved me to tears. This practice and movement that she had described as Harm Reduction made logical and intuitive sense to me- meet people where they are at, support them through any positive change, treat people who use drugs as autonomous individuals, capable of making their own decisions about their health. Her discussion resonated deeply with my experiences of intergenerational substance abuse, and I decided very quickly that I wanted to be apart of HACHR and the Harm Reduction Movement.
In my time here, I’ve come to learn that not everyone believes in the effectiveness of Harm Reduction. Some folks see it as enabling or normalizing drug use. We often hear these folks say, “what about the children?” What about the children who go without their parents because of drug use? What about the children who are born dependent on drugs? What about the children who may find syringes in the park or be exposed to other drug related paraphernalia? I hear these concerns and they are completely valid. There are so many things in this world that I wish children didn’t have to experience, including the loss of a parent due to overdose or incarceration- two things that are less the result of “bad decisions” and more the result of bad policy and stigma. The War on Drugs and the accompanying shame and stigma around certain kinds of drug use lead people to hide their use. This means they use alone, behind closed doors, or don’t ask for help. Instead of getting support or low-barrier access to treatment many people get put behind bars. These methods have not worked. And while I understand protecting children from traumatic experiences, there is a better way than using shame, guilt or separation.
As a child directly impacted by chaotic substance use in my family, I can say that a lack of support and understanding towards those struggling just added to the pain we were all experiencing. No amount of shame, coercion or guilt resulted in family members changing their life. And in fact, those who got that kind of treatment are still engaged in detrimental behaviors today. The road to recovery in my family was never linear, nor did it look the same for any two individuals. This is the reason why I believe so strongly in Harm Reduction, in supporting people who use drugs, and in meeting people where they are at.
I work in Harm Reduction because I love connecting with people, and I believe that every individual has the right to control their own body and health. I believe that honest conversations about drug use, support from family and community, and non-coercive techniques are the best ways to help folks make better choices for themselves (which is what science says works too!) Not every child gets to maintain relationships with family members affected by substance abuse. Not every child comes out of those experiences without severe trauma or resentment. In that way, I acknowledge how fortunate I am to have healthy relationships with family members who weren’t always there, but who eventually created a better life for themselves.
I am honored and excited to be stepping into this new position as Executive Director, supported by a team of compassionate individuals with their own lived experiences. Working at HACHR has given me so much perspective! It constantly reminds me of how amazingly strong and resilient people are, two qualities I’ve seen a lot in my own family. Every day is filled with people taking their health and well-being into their own hands and making positive changes. It’s fantastic that our work is rooted in both science and in love! It is about compassion, understanding, patience, and support. I look forward to more collaboration, creating and strengthening community relationships, and promoting the health and well-being of people who use drugs and the community at large.