Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jan 2001
Source: Bay Area Reporter (CA)
Copyright: 2001, The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R.
Author: John Iversen


A suspected arson fire raged to three alarms and destroyed the headquarters
of the Oakland needle exchange, Casa Segura, on New Year's Eve. 

According to Oakland fire investigators the blaze began in Casa Segura's
kitchen with an accelerant. The fire was spotted at 8:10 p.m. December 31
and brought under control 20 minutes later by 44 Oakland firefighters. No
one was injured in the blaze which caused an estimated $250,000 damage. 

Undaunted, Casa Segura volunteers and staff, carried on the weekly Tuesday
exchange January 2 under the light of a rented electric generator in the
parking lot of the gutted building, in a secluded area two blocks from the
Fruitvale BART station. The Berkeley Exchange brought its truck to serve as
the wound clinic for the night. Raw vegetables, fruits, and bread took the
place of the daily meal that is offered to needle exchange clients. 

"We've operated on the streets before and will continue to do so if
necessary. These are vital HIV prevention services and need to be in this
community," explained Casa Segura Director Chris Catchpool at Tuesday's

What was missing this week were the other components of the program for
which Casa Segura has been nationally recognized: a free hot meal, a warm
shelter, HIV and hepatitis C testing and counseling, acupuncture detox,
herbal medications and vitamins, and information on harm reduction and drug
treatment options. 

"Over half of the 17,000 weekly needle exchanges occur at the Fruitvale site
and about 25 people are treated weekly here for abscess wounds. The wound
treatments versus county hospital emergency room visits save Alameda County
a lot of money," said Oakland exchange co-founder Gerald Lenoir. 

The suspected arson fire is just the latest roadblock in the path of needle
exchange in Oakland. In 1995 five volunteers were unanimously acquitted by a
jury trial after being arrested by police; the county had lost two similar
trials in Berkeley. Last fall, 50 supporters protested police harassment of
exchange clients. Apparently low level harassment of clients continues as
the dead end street leading to Casa Segura was blocked by Oakland Police
last Tuesday, December 26. Sites in West and East Oakland operate with
minimal hindrance. 

Last April, Casa Segura's move to a larger, cheaper, more secluded site
infuriated Oakland City Council member Ignacio De La Fuente, whose district
includes Fruitvale. His office openly campaigned to force Casa Segura to
move out of the district. De la Fuente blamed the needle exchange for
bringing untoward outside elements into the community. The needle exchangers
charged De La Fuente was scapegoating them for the drug problem that already
loomed large in the Fruitvale area. 

In the meantime Casa Segura is hurting. According to Lenoir, "We are
insured, but the settlement will take a long time. Insurance investigators
are coming tomorrow to view the arson site. We are in need of money to pay
for the electric generator and we need office equipment, computers,
supplies, furniture, and kitchen equipment. Ironically our syringes were
under lock and key at another location." 

If you can help, contact Casa Segura at P.O. Box 7522, Oakland, CA 94601 or
e-mail:  The phones are not reconnected yet.
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