In San Francisco, Even the Drug-Users Have a Union

San Francisco, for those who don’t know, is a union town. And now the city has one more group hoping to push for its interests via strength in numbers: Drug users.

A San Francisco Drug-Users Union, operated by the Harm Reduction Therapy Center is now on the scene, bankrolled by a one-year grant: a $35,000 shot in the arm from the Drug Policy Alliance.

SF Weekly was unable to reach the union’s sole paid employee, Alexandra Goldman. But it did reach her union’s benefactor, Laura Thomas, the San Francisco-based deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Thomas stressed that she’s not setting the agenda for the San Francisco Drug-Users Union. But she did note that drug-user unions in Vancouver and New York City have “essentially served the same purpose as the Coalition on Homelessness does. It’s an organization of a set of folks who don’t have a say in policies that have a direct impact on them. The intent is to organize drug-users and help them have a voice and a say in local politics.”

(An aside: This wouldn’t have been my observation on how city government is flawed or what our local political scene is missing. But to each his own.).

Thomas continued that it’s up to the union to decide what kind of drugs are included in its members’ resumes, but other drug-users unions tend to cater to users of illegal drugs (not, say, medical patients using prescription drugs or those unable to afford legal drugs.). Drug-users unions elsewhere have pushed for supervised injection facilities and access to medical treatment.

When asked if the union would push for users of illegal drugs to be able to continue doing so with impunity or for those struggling with addiction issues to be treated medically and not criminally, Thomas answered “probably all of the above.”

“There’s not a lot of newspaper articles about people in the Upper Haight or Tenderloin being stigmatized, homeless drug-users, you know,” said Thomas. “Local media likes to stigmatize and demonize people. Often, what’s really going on is, they’re poor.”

– Article from SFWEEKLY.

Like Drugs? Like Unions? Join the Drug-Users Union

by Joe Eskenazi, SFWEEKLY

On Tuesday, we reported how, in San Francisco, even drug-users have a union. The nascent drug-users union got a major jump-start this year thanks to a one-year, $35,000 grant from theDrug Policy Alliance. The union exists, ostensibly, “to organize drug-users and help them have a voice and a say in local politics,” according to Laura Thomas, the Drug Policy Alliance’s deputy state director.

Or at least it will — once it gets a few drug-using members. Alexandra Goldman, the drug-user union’s organizer, notes that she just held her first meetings in February and the union is still setting up the process of who can join and who cannot.

For example, it has not yet been determined if those who regularly use legal drugs — even for unintended uses — can join. “There are different drug-users unions internationally. Some want their users to be using illegal drugs,” said Goldman. “Others don’t specify.”

In any event, if you think this is the union for you — let them know. You can write an e-mail to [email protected].

Goldman, without the benefit of an extant union membership, was not able to answer specifics about how her organization will go about making life easier for San Francisco’s drug-using population. But she was quick to note that she’ll be doing far more than simply asking city government for a handout. (You can insert your own joke here about the city being so broke you saw your district supervisor running off with your television).

“There are a lot of things I think the community can provide for itself,” she said. For example, she’d like to see more peer counseling of the sort where long-term intravenous drug-users give advice to newbies on practices that will “keep them safe.”

Goldman comes from a community organizing background — not, it would seem, a hardcore drug-abusing one. She is a former tenant organizer with the Central City SRO Collaborative. When asked if she’s a self-identified drug-user, she replied, “I was waiting for you to ask that! That’s not something I want in the newspaper.” She did note, however, that she was not marginally housed while working with SRO tenants, and was brought in — and paid — by the Drug Policy Alliance for her organizational skills. Make of that what you will.

When asked to counter those who are quizzical about her goals of “making San Francisco a better, healthier place for people who are using drugs” — and, instead, maybe making drug-users stop — she said it’s all about “keeping people breathing.”

“If your goal is to save people’s lives and keep people healthy,” she said, “the fact some of the drugs they’re doing are arbitrarily illegal is somewhat irrelevant.”

– Article from SFWEEKLY.