Hacks for SSP Community Relations

External Community

Your external community is made up of the larger spheres of influence your organization is a part of. Your external community includes your local home community (city, county, and/or health jurisdiction, and state), the other social service organizations in your home community, various professional communities (including medicine, public and behavioral health, housing etc.), and the larger national harm reduction, drug policy reform, sex worker rights, and other related movements.

Best Practices for External Community Building

Most of the best practices for building internal community, such as being transparent and accountable, are equally true for building your external community, but there are some specific skills for building external community. These include:

  • Map your community – starting from the central location where you provide services, make a map of each block in the surrounding area. Look for community assets (schools, churches, stores, community organizations, clinics, parks, etc.), places where there might be potential participants, and issues you or your participants may encounter.
  • Offer tours or open houses – offer regular tours to community members. This helps with transparency and builds community trust while demystifying SSP services. Many organizations choose to do this during a time when they are not providing regular services in order to protect participant confidentiality.
  • Practice public speaking – find community groups like Toastmasters or other ways to practice public speaking and provide those same opportunities to the leaders you cultivate.
  • Build a presence on social and other media – make sure your organization has a social media presence and, where useful, have one in the regular media as well.
  • Create the position of community relations liaison – have someone at your organization ready to act as a spokesperson if a reporter approaches you for comment on current events impacting your clients, and make sure local journalists know that person is available, along with contact information.
  • Have regular events – holding regular events to celebrate successes, get to know constituents, and raise funds help build your organization’s public profile and external community.
  • Keep good notes – many organizations, especially those in communities more hostile to SSPs, make it a practice to keep notes about both allies in the community and people or organizations that are challenging. These notes are invaluable for keeping a clear idea of allies who can be counted on in the larger community and can offer insights into how to avoid or resolve challenges.
  • Be compassionate with everyone – it’s essential that harm reduction organizations extend compassion to everyone they come in contact with, in order to build community trust – even those they may have a knee-jerk negative response to.
  • Be positive – people are more attracted to organizations that are positive and uplifting, so try to build a positive message into everything that you do.
  • Look for organizations and coalitions with aligned values – seek out organizations and coalitions with values that are similar to yours when building alliances or partnerships.
  • Participate in professional and national organizations – participate in professional organizations to get ideas, access to resources, to build alliances, and to build credibility.

All Hacks in This Section

More Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel
During our development Harm Reduction Hacks have collected together a large number of resources from around the web you can find these in our resource folder in Google Docs. We are also always looking for more so help us by suggesting any resources we may have missed.
Suggest a Resource

External Resources

Collected from around the web
There are a number of external resources that contributed to the development of Harm Reduction Hacks. Here are a selection relating to this section:


The hacks on this site are shared with you under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. This allows you (with attribution) to adapt content for your own use, although we do ask you to then also allow others to have equal access to anything you develop. More details of this licence can be found on the Creative Commons website.


We do not claim that this is an exhaustive set of strategies, shortcuts, or tips for running an SSP. What we do suggest is that Harm Reduction Hacks offers down-to-earth, practical information for being a better leader, starting and running an SSP, and providing syringe access services. We feel we can say this with confidence because the Hacks are based on interviews with, and the experiences of, literally generations of people who have been doing harm reduction work.

Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney local to your area to ensure your program is in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your situation. 

Harm Reduction Hacks site design and implimentation by Nigel Brunsdon

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