Workforce Development Hacks for SSPs

Considerations for Hiring Peers

There are many things to consider before you hire anyone, but the following were cited by many leaders as important to consider before hiring peers:

  • Start internally – if you are an organization hiring peers for the first time it is ideal to start by considering the structural barriers to employment for peers and the internalized stigma that current staff may hold toward peers.
  • Confront stigma – regardless of where you are in the process to create the environment necessary for peers to be successful, it is essential that organizations confront and deconstruct stereotypes and stigma that people may have toward the people served by the SSP. Like any kind of self-examination, working through this is sometimes painful and difficult but always powerful and important if you’re truly making a commitment to the peers you are hiring. Make no mistake – stereotypes about people who use drugs, sex workers, unhoused people, and folks suffering mental illness are incredibly pervasive and we cannot help but internalize them. So the work of confronting stigma includes peers themselves.
  • Define your terms – make sure you are clear about who you are defining as a “peer” and that the peers you hire are actually from the community (rather than just “reflecting” it- they are not the same).
  • Check your insurance – if you’re offering health insurance make sure your insurance covers substance use disorder treatment, medication assisted treatment, and a robust mental health care package.
  • Look for reliability and enthusiasm – reliability and enthusiasm were cited by leaders as the most important traits to look for in all SSP employees, especially peers who may not have formal work experience.
  • Don’t tokenize peers – hire peers on the strength of their individual character and because you think they can do the job effectively, not because they check a box on your grant report or harm reduction to-do list.

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.
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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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