Many of the essential policies that SSPs will use, such as workplace theft and sexual harassment policies, are generic to NPOs and can be copied directly from a trustworthy source like a reputable organization or legal resource. Other policies are either, in whole or in part, unique to harm reduction and/or essential to SSP service provision. These include policies for:
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) – although most nonprofits have some form of DEI policy, harm reduction programs have some specific issues with regard to these policies. An SSP’s DEI policy should include provisions regarding the marginalized folks who they serve including people who use drugs, sex workers, people with a history of incarceration, and unhoused people.
Participant Definition – every SSP must define who is eligible to be a participant in their program. This includes defining both communities that they serve, as well as limitations on who they serve (if there are any). Because discrimination is fundamentally wrong, as well as illegal, the default for every SSP is to serve anyone who identifies as a person who uses drugs or needs SSP services. However, some programs have chosen to concentrate on a subset of the population who may have particular needs (e.g. people who use stimulants) and/or those who may experience particular marginalization (e.g. youth and/or transwomen). In those cases, service limitations must be clearly stated and publicized.
Communications – it is essential for SSPs to develop a plan for communications – both with other stakeholders and community members but, most importantly, with participants. This should include both who should do the communication and how it should be done. Having a plan in place avoids a variety of potential conflicts.
Universal Precautions and Sharps Handling – because SSPs all provide some form of sharps handling and bio-waste disposal it should go without saying that every SSP, by law, must have clear, written policies regarding handling biohazardous waste and potential needle stick injuries. Programs should follow the universal precaution guidelines established by the CDC and OSHA. SSPs may need to adapt those precautions to accommodate the circumstances of their work because many SSPs literally “meet people where they are at”: offering mobile exchange from RVs, cars, bikes, or on foot. In such cases, SSPs should consult appropriate professionals to ensure their programs have the best practices possible. Programs should also anticipate the potential of needlestick injury and routinely have a “post-exposure-prophylaxis” protocol in place – in other words: what happens when someone gets stuck and needs/wants medication to prevent possible infection.
Gifts to Staff – it is not uncommon for SSP participants to want to give staff gifts. This should be banned or discouraged to prevent favoritism, or even the appearance of favoritism.
De-escalation – conflict is common wherever there are humans. Calling law enforcement often escalates issues and can ruin the reputation of the SSP as a safe place for highly criminalized populations. It can also have unintended, and deadly, consequences for participants. Therefore, it is imperative that SSPs have a de-escalation policy in place that includes training for staff, volunteers, and even participants where appropriate.
Participant Treatment, Rights, and Grievance Procedure – another fundamental policy that every SSP should have is a set of participant rights and expectations about the services they receive and a formal mechanism for grievances to be levied and addressed.
Supply and Service Limitations and Procedures – another essential policy for SSPs to have in place, especially smaller or more modest programs without unlimited funds, regards service and/or supply limitations. It is common for programs to experience supply shortages or need to limit services for a period of time for a variety of reasons. When these interruptions happen, they can cause chaos, confusion, and even community-wide loss of reputation if participants feel that they are being treated arbitrarily or unfairly. To avoid this, it is important for SSPs to decide on a policy ahead of time about how to deal with limitations that includes how to best (and most transparently) communicate about limitations to participants.
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.
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.