AUSTIN (KXAN) — People stopping by the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance’s outreach van — which was parked near the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail Wednesday — might be given sterile drug supplies or drug testing strips.
The problem? Some of those supplies are considered drug paraphernalia and are illegal in Texas.
“Despite the fact that there are study after study after study showing the positive health impacts and community impacts of being able to distribute these supplies,” said Lily Hughes, outreach team lead with the THRA.
The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance works to connect people at risk of an opioid overdose with clean supplies, naloxone — an opioid overdose reversal medication — and treatment resources.
That’s part of the reason why just down the street at the THRA’s drop-in center on Cesar Chavez, the group was told they needed to stop.
“On overdose awareness day, we got a letter from our landlord and property manager informing us that we needed to cease operations immediately at risk of eviction,” Hughes said. The THRA said the reason was both their services and that neighbors had filed complaints with the property manager.
That’s where Austin City Council members, including Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, stepped in.
“What we were able to do was facilitate a conversation between the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance and their landlord, and we came to an agreement where they would still be operating, just in a limited capacity,” Fuentes said.
The THRA says they’ve had to shuffle some of their services to their mobile operations and were being asked to address neighbor concerns by doing perimeter sweeps and keeping people out of an alley near their drop-in center, among other changes.
“We do not comment on specifics as it relates to our tenants. That said, we support the mission of Texas Harm Reduction Alliance so long as they remain committed and accountable to being good neighbors,” a property manager for the landlord told KXAN.
For now, the group is able to continue serving the roughly 100 people it sees every day at its Cesar Chavez location and to continue helping the people it finds through its mobile outreach, but without the state legalizing harm reduction tools, the THRA says it will continue to be at legal risk — putting its clients at risk too.
“We worry about people experiencing more overdoses and people having to have unsafe use practices and then just the emotional impact,” Hughes said.