By Dolores Quintana
Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich has formally requested that Los Angeles County end the Harm Reduction Syringe Services Program that takes place in Reed Park and relocate it to an indoor site.
“We understand our limited regulatory authority,” the letter reads, “however, rather than implement this program in our parks and open spaces, we seek your assistance in immediately moving this program to a service rich environment (preferably indoors) where individuals in need of substance abuse, mental health, and other services can coordinate and work directly with service providers.” and noted that the city of Santa Monica’s Four Pillars Strategy specifically wants to “address homelessness and prevent residents from becoming unhoused.” by maintaining access to open spaces such as parks. In the Mayor’s opinion, Los Angeles County’s Harm Reduction Syringe Services Program, that distributes not only clean needles, but cans of Narcan which is a lifesaving drug for people who have overdosed, interferes with the City Council’s strategy.
The Mayor did not explain how keeping park space open by relocating a three hour needle exchange program benefits the unhoused. The website laodprevention.org seems to indicate that the program at Reed Park is the only such program on the Westside.
Himmelrich and Santa Monica City officials have asked for a proposal from the County to place further restrictions on the location, times and procedures for the Harm Reduction program going forward. The program is run by The Venice Family Clinic as part of their Common Ground Program and is certified by the County. Councilmember Phil Brock said, as quoted by The Santa Monica Daily Press, “We think, in the city, [there are] probably seven or eight good locations. I think several people talked to some of the people that were receiving the needles, and they said they would go where the clean needles were — that it wasn’t that people had to come — that they had to come to them, because it was drawing more people to Reed Park and other parks in the city.” Councilmember Brock has also added his opinion during an earlier statement during a City Council meeting that, as quoted by The Santa Monica Daily Press, “having it next to a children’s playground was not appropriate.”, but it is unknown how close the program site is to the playground itself.
However, the closest locations on LA OD Prevention.org site are in Culver City, Lawndale and Beverly Hills and unhoused people face specific challenges with traveling from different locations within the City because many of them lack vehicles or other forms of transportation other than public transportation or their own feet.
The medical director for Los Angeles County’s substance abuse program, Brian Hurley, said as quoted by The Los Angeles Times, “In our view, the community concerns, while I can understand them, I also would underscore that it’s not as though the county Department of Public Health is intending to overwhelm the park with an overwhelming number of services,” We’re talking about something that’s three hours a week.”
Hurley added, as quoted by The Santa Monica Daily Press through an emailed statement, “Venice Family Clinic’s Common Ground Program is the only LA County certified syringe program with a fixed location on the Westside. We are aware that Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP) also occasionally operates nearby Opioid Treatment Programs within LA County Service Planning Area 5, but they don’t have a fixed location on the Westside of Los Angeles.”
However, Hurley stated that the program held in Reed Park had additional services that it provides for those who come to the site, including LA County certified harm reduction syringe service programs offer naloxone distribution, safer use equipment including sterile syringes, referrals to medical, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment services, screening for sexually transmitted infections and referrals to housing services for individuals experiencing homelessness.