Workforce Development Hacks for SSPs

This section has 10 hacks in it.
“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
Helen Keller

Harm reduction programs often start as a volunteer labor of love for communities impacted by drug use. But, as time and experience has shown, relying solely on the goodwill and passionate commitment of people who identify a need in the community simply isn’t sustainable. To alleviate this and provide services in line with harm reduction best practices, leaders have created more sustainable workforces through developing their volunteers, hiring peers and/or employees, and hiring others to manage parts of their programs.

This section discusses both volunteers and employees, some of the issues that arise when including participant peers as volunteers or employees, and a few things related to developing and sustaining program managers.


Volunteers are in many ways the lifeblood of harm reduction programs, representing a large portion of the total syringe access workforce. These volunteers can be peripheral, such as volunteers providing help with activities like kit making and paperwork, or they can help in more central, direct service roles providing syringe access and other harm reduction services on the ground.

Volunteer Recruitment & Vetting

Recruitment does not stop when organizations have people in the door. It is equally important to vet potential volunteers to make sure they have the temperament and capacity to treat SSP participants with the dignity, compassion, and respect that every SSP participant should expect at harm reduction programs.

Volunteer Training

Volunteers, even those with lived experience using drugs, always need training. Volunteer training in harm reduction varies from very minimal (less than 5 hours) to very long (120 hours) and there are many ways to provide training at an SSP.


Peers are people who are actively using drugs, doing sex work, living unhoused, and/or with mental illness. Having peers volunteer, work for, and run harm reduction organizations is critical to ensure that (following the Principles of Harm Reduction) “drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.” and to “affirm drug users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use”.

Why Hire People Who Use Drugs (and Other Peers)

There are many reasons why programs have historically been resistant to peer involvement. Sadly, one of the main reasons is stigma, and the regulations that have resulted from stigma, about people who use drugs and other peers.

Considerations for Hiring Peers

There are many things to consider before you hire anyone, but the points raised in this article were cited by many leaders as important to consider before hiring peers.

Considerations When Working with Peers

Despite stereotypes, drug users, sex workers, and other people who are marginalized come from many walks of life and have many patterns of behavior. Many of the considerations here come from leaders managing chaotic employees – an important source of wisdom for all employers, but please remember that not every drug user is chaotic.

The Sticky

This article covers some of the thorniest issues faced when hiring peers.


Harm reduction organizations that hire employees of any kind face the same issues as other employers. This article covers some of the biggest concerns regarding having any kind of employees at an SSP.


Managers, especially people who may not have previous management experience, may need further assistance to succeed.

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


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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