Pubdate: Mon, 03 Jan 2000
Source: San Luis Obispo County Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112
Fax: 805.781.7905
Author: Associated Press


OAKLAND - A needle exchange program which has survived underground for
seven years without public funding is coming out of the shadows for the new
year as state law changes to recognize their value.

Alameda County Exchange volunteers have waged this battle against the
spread of AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases three nights a
week at various city locations.

People show up on foot, in cars, on bicycles, trading small bundles of used
syringes for new ones.

The group collects about 17,000 syringes a week and gives out at least that
many fresh, clean ones, along with alcohol swabs, bleach and condoms as
well as nutritional food.

"It has taken a lot of hustling just for us to stay alive," said Chris
Catchpool, executive director of Casa Segura, which operates the program.

Among Catchpool's responsibilities - writing grants that help bring in
about $95,000 a year in private donations. "A lot of foundations want to
give, but haven't been able to since it's been an illegal activity."

In the early days, the group braved arrest. But eventually, as study after
study proved the value of offering addicts clean needles, the operation was
first tolerated and then supported by city leaders.

That support, however, was not financial, and the operation was believed to
be the nation's largest to run without public money.

But that should be changing soon, for Casa Segura and others in the state.

The new law doesn't completely legalize such programs. But it does give
them protection from prosecution if a local public health emergency is

Both the Oakland City City Council and the Alameda County Board of
Supervisors have made such declarations.

Alameda County has been contributing about $250,000 annually to Casa
Segura's otehr programs, with the stipulation the funds can't be used for
needle exchange.

Now, the county says it will increase its grants. Oakland officials haven't
promised any money, but have pledged to consider picking up the slack it
grants and other funding sources fall short.

Now there's another problem to deal with. Casa Segura's lease is up soon,
and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente wants them to move as soon
as possible.

"The services they provide certainly do help minimize the impact of AIDS
around our community," said De La Fuente.
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