A Night on the Tiles …

Stable & maintained on an opiate painkiller for a congenital spinal condition, delighted that it had the added benefit of making winter bearable, I began to spend time on the streets outreaching to fellow drugs users.
These were largely African-Caribbean, largely homeless and in some cases poly-drugs-users. This began when I witnessed the most terrifying act of violence, at the end of 2004’s summer. Fortunately, I was far enough away not to see the impact it was having on its victim, but close enough to see that two men were beating hell out of one person with long metal weapons, that could kill another human being.
I was walking home one summer evening when a young guy asked me for money and cigarettes. I was tired and just wanted to go to bed, so I said “sorry no” to both requests and attempted to walk on by. Then he said, “Well do you have any filters then?” (For any reader who doesn’t know), filters are used to draw drug solutions up into the syringe without the impurities that are so often present in street-drugs.
I was so shocked by the question; I turned round and said, “How d’you know I’m not the friggin’ drug squad?!” Lamely, he replies, “I just know you’re not…” Then began a long conversation about using needles and AIDS and hep and much more.
He said, “We don’t care anymore; really most people ‘out here’ don’t care whether they share works or not.” I declared, “I just don’t believe that! How can you not care if you get life-long potentially fatal infections?” He was around 25, working-class – that a word people still remember? – pale-faced, but not under-weight, so I thought he may not have been ‘out there’ for too long.. I just want to ensure street injectors are regularly accessing clean needles, never sharing them and/or getting a legal supply of the drug of their addiction.
The problem with street work is how to maintain connections with people, when cops are constantly moving them on, community wardens and/or (I hope) referred to a place of safety.
I continued “I don’t believe you don’t care about sharing needles; maybe you are just finding them hard to get hold of. Do you know pharmacies that sell them; aren’t the local outreach teams giving you clean works?”
“What’s an outreach team?” he asked, though I was still trying to devise a way in my mind to get him down to a local methadone clinic.
“How long have you been ‘out here?’
He responded long enough to know that there was never an outreach team around at this time of night giving out clean works. Well that’s for sure. It’s one of those things about drug projects.
At the end of the day, the workers want a life, so opening and closing shop between 10am and 8pm is the norm, though there are a small no. of outlets in the entire huge city, who sell works when people are most likely to be buying and shooting dope. How many drug injectors have I met over the years, who have spent time simply making sure other injectors have works, ‘after hours’ as it were as they have known the pain of losing friends to AIDS, Endocarditic, Hep and more.
He kept hassling me for money and that got boring. In the end, I began to tell him what I was doing out on the streets so late also. I’d just left a internet cafe, where I’d been answering e-mail to people about safer drugs-use, AIDS treatments and/or drug policy strategies.
That seemed to be about as much interest to him as a used condom would be to a dead dog! So then I got down to bizz, and told him about the thousands of people just like him all over the world, who had decided to spend their lives, preventing other IDUs from getting BBDs and/or giving peer support. That seemed a little more engaging to him…”well have you got any drugs you can give me then?”
I was getting a little tired of this ongoing barrage of demands, plus it was way past my bedtime, so without much thought, I asked, “depends what drugs you mean and in case you are not aware, most of the drugs ‘we’ like are controlled drugs so under the law if we buy or sell them to one another, we are breaking the law” not that I really gave a damn about that, but I needed to know whether he was an undercover cop! Ach, street outreach in the early days of the 21st century.
He said he was using street heroin all the time. Our conversation about methadone fell flat fast; he said, “he just didn’t like it” to which I say, “it’s not about liking it, but it is about preventing yourself wondering the streets strung out day in day out ah?” That clearly registered but no words came out of him..
That was Camden town Autumn 2005. A few weeks later, I read that Camden had the highest no. of street users in inner London, but the smallest number of treatment slots in the borough, which makes you wonder. I had previously offered to address a small meeting in Camden that the DAT had organized trying to get support for a Safer Injection Room (SIR).
I was told (2004) that wouldn’t be necessary. When I went to find out why the SIR had not been set up, I was told the key worker pushing for it Megan Jones had moved onto another job, and that it had been put on the back burner… I don’t actually believe it was as simple as that as London has never had an official SIR funded by public money. I also know that the government does not officially support them, though they were recommended by the Home affairs Select Committee (2003).
To date, in Camden Town, the Criminal Justice aspects of drugs work have won the day, while people – young and old – are often seen shooting up and/or smoking crack/heroin on doorsteps by local kids, and we wonder why the demonisation of drug dependents increases?

Where have all the street outreach workers gone?

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