On van patrol we hand out condoms to the girls, guys and transgendered that work our cities streets. We don't ask questions, we don't ask for names, we just drive up, roll down the window, and check in with people. We're not the only organization that hands out condoms, but for once people have talked, and we all cover different times of day.
I really like what we do. I think condoms are important, but sometimes I feel like saying, "get off the street, there's another way". See here's the thing though, you can't have that conversation right off the top, there's a whole lot of conversations that have to come first, and those conversations can begin with condoms.
The more we drive around, the more familiar we become with the girls etc on the street. The more times we stop and offer condoms, the more contacts we have, the more likely people are to trust us, and trust is not an easy thing. Conversations have to begin somewhere though! I see so much value in this first step. Our second step is that we have the opportunity to drive some of these people home, off the street. Having them in our van gives us the opportunity to chat a bit, about nothing, or about something (this is how I learned just how creepy our van looks...) A third step might happen if someone asked for help with something more serious, like getting into a shelter instead of going back home... but these steps take time.
I can understand why people find harm reduction hard to understand. Sometimes I do feel like I'm tacitly agreeing with the explotation of young women and girls. More often however I feel like I'm doing something good, and that even though what I'm doing is small, it's part of a bigger picture. There are lots of organizations out there to help, and if we can build a little trust, that can become so much more.
and to think, it could all start with a condom...