PoWER Institute Spotlight: Houston Harm Reduction Alliance

Column By: David Duffield
David Duffield is a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor at the Behavioral Hospital of Bellaire in Houston Texas were his work centers on Co-occurring Substance Use Disorders and Psychiatric Disorders. After twenty-five years of intravenous substance use and seventeen years of sobriety, David is most proud of his being President and co-founder of Houston Harm Reduction Alliance, a non-profit organization that advances harm reduction policies, practices, and programs that address the adverse effects of substance use.

Editor’s Note: Houston Harm Reduction Alliance participated in the COMPASS Initiative® PoWER Institute’s “PoWER Up for Organizational Success”, a 3-month long collaborative learning opportunity for emerging organizations interested in enhancing their infrastructure. This spotlight focuses on their experience.

We began Houston Harm Reduction Alliance (HHRA) with the belief that we could bring relief to two critical areas of concern to people who inject drugs.  We wanted to address the spread of HIV, viral Hepatitis, and STD’s through sharing needles and the recovery of dignity, health, and wellness to this misunderstood population. Emory University COMPASS Coordinating Center’s (ECCC) PoWER UP Institute and the COMPASS Initiative® understood our mission and were eager to support our goals through capacity building education and training. To have the highly respected Emory University and a vital pharmaceutical company such as Gilead take an interest in HHRA’s outreach was like breathing fresh air into our organization.

COMPASS Initiative® through the PoWER UP! Institute (Emory’s collaborative learning opportunity) has given us the tools to help our organization go right to the heart of our challenge. We are implementing needle exchange and HIV prevention services in a conservative southern state.  In Texas, the politics of sin, which includes the stigma of illicit drug use and men having sex with men, have allowed for the HIV and HCV epidemic to grow. Consequently, new cases are reported every day. The COMPASS Initiative® does not shy away from this population, but rather, embraces us. This whole-hearted support is of immeasurable significance to HHRA and our outreach.

The training and coaching that Emory COMPASS Coordinating Center facilitates alongside the Initiative’s mission gave us an invaluable opportunity to see how a non-profit like HHRA may advance the development of our infrastructure, which in turn has resulted in a reinvigorated board, growing fundraising efforts, and increased volunteer and participant interest and engagement.

The PoWER UP Institute challenged us to learn the phases of capacity building- including the use of evaluation plans to measure our goals, logic plans for fundraising, communication strategies, and many forms of infrastructure development- all in a safe space with compassionate and knowledgeable trainers. We were also supported alongside other fledgling non-profits at different levels of development with whom we could share successes and failures, gain new insight, and share laughter.

Our team and the different non-profits from various Southern states came together with individual missions and values, met the Emory University trainers/staff, guest speakers and our assigned team coaches, and within hours we discovered we had a shared mission and goals. We felt validated, supported, and empowered to provide needle exchange and HIV/HCV prevention in Texas that rocks!

The PoWER Up Institute was an exciting incubator that allowed us to learn from and compare our agencies’ progress with other struggling Southern state non-profits in the social justice realm. We had become siloed in our heads, nothing to compare our work or internal structures with. We had not really known what was ongoing and critical for a non-profit like ours, as doing needle exchange and harm reduction is a lonely effort in our red state. However, because of the Institute, we along with the other non-profits feel validated and supported.

Our relationship with HHRA’s capacity building coach (provided by Emory COMPASS Coordinating Center), Sue Gallego, became an immense help to our organization. PoWER UP provided us with Sue’s intense resume in the prevention/harm reduction sector, and it was a perfect fit for the type of outreach that we do. The homework and the many opportunities for open and honest communication, with our entire board of directors and outreach, was immeasurable.

Houston Harm Reduction Alliance was given access to the entire ECCC roster of staff and support, along with highly relevant speakers who were active in major successful non-profit work. We experienced impressive credentials from the podium to the staff in the room training us…all were there to help us save lives.

We are your Houston Harm Reduction Alliance and we are connected forever.

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