The North Richmond Project (NRP)
The North Richmond Project (NRP) was something new for HRV. NRP was about mobilising the using community, getting people to think about their impact on the wider community, and to remember that sometimes we aren’t as invisible as we like to think. Essentially it was about local drug users contributing to a cohesive community – and being acknowledged as part of the community, with an essential part to play.
The NRP was an exciting project but not without its challenges. We viewed it as a pilot program and adopted a problem-solving and ‘lessons learnt’ approach. We remain committed to building on this beginning and developing a robust program which we hope to take to other communities and other councils grappling with similar issues.
The concept for the NRP arose in response to community concerns over discarded injecting equipment and inappropriate behaviour in the local community. These problems had already led to the development of Taking Action Together, a collaborative partnership between Victoria Police, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, the City of Yarra, the Office of Housing, the Department of Health and the Yarra Drug and Health Forum.
A Taking Action Together workshop was held in 2010. Bringing together service providers and community organisations, it sought to find ways to address the impacts of drug activity in the North Richmond High Rise Estate and surrounding areas. This was where HRV stepped up.
HRV received funding from the DoH (Department of Health) & a small grant from NJC (Neighbourhood Justice Centre) via the City of Yarra. NRCH (North Richmond Community Health,) was our main partner in the project, in conjunction with Innerspace & YSAS (Youth Support & Advocacy Service). A steering committee was formed with members from these organisations which provided excellent support and guidance.
The primary aims of this project were:
- To reduce nuisance behaviours perceived to be associated with illicit drug use,
- To improve the health and self-care amongst people in North Richmond who use heroin, and
- To significantly improve the perception of safety and amenity for local residents in and around the public housing estate in Nth Richmond.
We hoped to reduce the number of inappropriately discarded syringes and to encourage people to either leave the area before taking their drugs or, if that wasn’t possible, to be more discreet about injecting around the estate and in the wider Nth Richmond area.
The project had three stages:
We recruited 50 people who inject drugs (PWIDs) who lived or used in the North Richmond area to participate in six peer-education workshops run at three local services, i.e. NRCH, Inner Space & YSAS.
Four workshops were held at NRCH (one indigenous specific) and one at Innerspace. Unfortunately the one we had planned for YSAS didn’t happen due to the lack of young PWIDs attending the service at the time of the project.
A total of 38 participants (12 women, 26 men) attended the workshops, which were facilitated by the HRV project worker, with staff from the NRCH Drug Safety Team. All workshops were extremely dynamic with high levels of engagement.
Participants were asked:
- To identify strategies on how local drug-users could make Richmond a more harmonious community,
- To identify the issues related to the street-based drug scene and public drug use in Richmond,
- To visualise the locations of disposal bins before reflecting on their actual locations. Participants were asked to develop a hierarchy of safe places to use drugs (from safest to least safe).
- To suggest strategies to encourage safe disposal of all injecting equipment, including wrappers.
- To suggest strategies to encourage users to go about their business with more discretion and less disruption to the wider community. (‘Red Lighting Yourself’ is a term used on the street that means you’re drawing attention to yourself.)
- To develop a ‘user code of ethics’
During the second and third stages, four to five key peer educator/mentors (KPMs) were selected and trained. Our criteria for a potential KPM was a current user who either lived on the Nth Richmond Housing Estate, in Richmond or spent most of their time in the Nth Richmond area. Ideally, he/she was a natural leader & had status in the community, was community spirited, well-connected and had the time to be involved.
We began with two indigenous KPMs and three local KPMs – two females and three males. We ended up with three KPMs who met our eligibility criteria and were already encouraging people to use safely and dispose of equipment properly. Their training included OD prevention, safer using & BBV (Blood Borne Virus) prevention. They were to further develop their roles for the ‘Campaign’ phase (Stage 3) and provide input on imagery & wording for campaign resources including a poster & stickers.
The campaign phase ran for four weeks. Central to it were the three pieces of artwork pictured. Posters were displayed around Nth Richmond and at Innerspace. Stickers were put on fit packs at NRCH & Innerspace and all disposal bins in the City of Yarra by the Innerspace team.
KPMs distributed sterile waters and No Spill Spoons to help start conversations with other users, both locals and day trippers, on a range of harm reduction issues -but particularly about cleaning up after themselves, and about the need to be discreet and not red-lighting themselves when scoring or using on the street.
The KPMs had one thousand contacts over the four weeks, the majority on weekends. (These figures are amazing.) We asked the KPMs to spend nine hours per week on the street and one hour in debriefing, but all of them went above and beyond and spent a minimum of five hours a day talking to users and generally monitoring activities on the street.
The KPMs were all extremely dedicated. They reported that they were getting through to the majority of their contacts and that they were making a real difference in their community. The KPMs reported a sense of empowerment – all had discussions with family members about the project and how proud they felt about their involvement..
For the duration of the campaign stage, KPMs who lived on the Estate reported less unsafely discarded injecting equipment and related paraphernalia. The KPMs also reported that users were often reluctant to go into a service and this explained why the project was so successful – i.e. the KPMs met them where they were at and came to them on the street.
Unfortunately, the project was short-lived. Although we saw small changes, we also saw the possibility of bigger & better outcomes – clearly sustainability is a key issue. Building bridges and finding ways to contribute to a harmonious and inclusive community takes times. As it was, just as the KPMs were becoming accepted and respected and their messages of safer drug use were paying dividends, the project ended and much of their hard won ground was lost. We are confident that much could be achieved if we were able to provide this sort of support and resourcing for local users in the longer term. We are looking for ways to continue our work in Nth Richmond and to build on these solid foundations. We are also talking to other councils about adapting the model to suit their local needs and concerns.
Thank you – to Tracy, Shaun & Nic (the 3 KPM’s). Without you, the project wouldn’t have been the success it was.
Thank you also to Kasey, for providing the local knowledge we found indispensable.
For more information regarding the North Richmond Project, read the AGE article “Junkies to help police North Richmond laneways in bid to ease ‘perfect storm’ of heroin dealing“