PreventionWorks is scheduled to close tomorrow and D.C.’s top elected officials – who have been uninformed or misinformed – have expressed little-to-no interest in having the city step in to stop the shuttering of the imperfect, but invaluable organization.
Feb. 15, when asked about PreventionWorks’ imminent closure, Councilmember David Catania, chair of the Health Committee, said he was not aware of it, but would look into it. Mr. Catania’s lack of awareness was surprising since, five days earlier, in an article entitled “D.C. group will end needle exchange,” the Washington Post noted, “The leading provider of clean needles to drug addicts in the District to help stem the spread of AIDS plans to shut its doors by the end of the month, officials said.”
Mayor Vincent Gray’s understanding of the situation has been no less troubling. Yesterday, he reiterated his Feb. 15 response, incorrectly stating that D.C. is prohibited by Congress from providing funding to PreventionWorks. Gray said, “I would ask you to go up on the Hill and ask them, ‘Why is it that we are being prohibited from spending our money on needle exchange programs?’ That’s where it starts.”
Presently, there is nothing stopping the District from funding PreventionWorks. In fact, ever since the ban on federal money going to organizations doing needle exchange was lifted in 2007, the District has done just that. The Washington Post reported, “In 2007, Congress ended that ban, allowing the D.C. HIV/AIDS administration to provide about $700,000 to four nonprofits, including PreventionWorks.”
Larry Bryant, national field organizer for Housing Works and co-chair of DC Fights Back, discussed the impact of PreventionWorks’ closure. “The real effects aren’t going to be felt for another few weeks… But really, over a period of time, it’s going to be measured in deaths due to people who don’t see their normal… case worker out there.”
“It’s more than just a lack of priorities, it’s a complete ignoring of a large percentage of this city,” Bryant said. “We would be better off just sending a bunch of shovels out to Southeast and other places where the epidemic has hit hardest because we’re asking people to bury themselves [while] we focus on things that don’t at all support the infrastructure of who we are as a city. We’ll build more stadiums [and] and we’ll build more condos, [all] in the face of tens, of hundreds of people dying needlessly, basically because we refused to look in a direction we need to.”