Open letter from First Step's CEO to journalists reporting on the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Richmond:
I am the CEO of an organisation that works with a very similar cohort of people as North Richmond Community Health ( https://nrch.com.au/services/alcohol-and-other-drugs/medically-supervised-injecting-room/ ). And that cohort includes some of the most vulnerable people you can imagine. Victims of childhood emotional, physical and sexual abuse, people who have experienced chronic homelessness, early school leavers, people who grew up in out of home care and people who never knew their parents. Their experience of life is so far beyond anything that I, and the average Australian, has ever experienced. They were not brought up to expect the love of their parents, a big hug for a good school report, or a trip to the movies on their birthday. Many people do not survive a childhood like this. They take their own lives, they die of misadventure or they die of ill health primarily related to drug use. Some however do survive, but they carry scars.
As a comfortably middle-class person, the child of loving parents, I believe it is my duty to look humbly and with great relief on my own good fortune. Every time I look at a homeless person on the street, someone panhandling, someone seeking or using illicit drugs, I try to visualise that person as a child; looking for love just like the rest of us. It takes practice and exposure to remember to think like that, but I have the good fortune of just such exposure on a daily basis. I have kids of my own, and the idea of any of them suffering a small fraction of what our most vulnerable clients at First Step have been through is sobering (pun intended).
At First Step, we believe that everybody deserves every chance to turn their lives around. EVERYbody – EVERY chance. I’m pretty sure Dr Nico Clark and his team at North Richmond Community Health feel the same. Safe injecting facilities are evidence-based best practice in harm minimisation . . . and they save lives. That’s what we’re trying to do here. Save lives! And, give people the daily opportunity to seek, and gradually accept, more and more help. Please look at the research from Kings Cross (not one fatality in almost 20 years) and overseas (no fatalities that I know of at any medically supervised injecting facility anywhere in the world . . . ever!).
We all know that journalists have a job to do. We know you have editors who point you in a particular direction and have expectations. And we also know that if a journalist ‘passes’ on a particular piece or a particular manner of reporting then someone else will probably write/produce/report it, but that’s not a reason discontinue being attentive to your own moral compass.
Ghandi (yes, I’m going to use Ghandi) encouraged us to judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable. I think that is true not only of the society, but of every one of us within it. Journalists have tremendous power in this situation over people who have never had much at all, including over their own lives. I strongly encourage you to think about your own legacy, and which side of history you want to be on when it comes to helping the most vulnerable people.
It is unbearable not to be seen, not be heard, to have nowhere to go and nothing to do. Help turn this epidemic of loneliness, poor mental health and addiction around.
PS. And sympathetic journos, please share this to help me get to more journos.