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Head & Hands StreetWork program closes
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 16 novembre 2011

NDG’s Head & Hands/À Deux Mains recently announced the closing of its StreetWork outreach project to local teens. The Oct. 14 press release stated that it had lost funding for the project in its entirety.

According to Head & Hands Annual Report for 2010-11 the StreetWork project represented a new model of harm-reduction for drug-users, while supporting the sexual autonomy of youth. However, the off-site project was controversial, not unlike some of the on-site resources street youth were referred to.

The goal of the project was to bring Head & Hands’ information and resources to street youth through peer-based education and outreach with a view to preventing Hepatitis C and HIV.

Youthful street workers were to take the twin messages of “safer drug-use” and “safe-sex” to youth on the streets, in bars and hotels, as well as into high schools and group homes.

Former street workers Robyn and Sara did just that and distributed condoms, clean needles, inhalation kits, and the Trippin! harm-reduction drug-use guide prepared by Robyn.

Critics say that there is no “safe” way to consume illegal drugs and that the “safe-sex” message is flawed and misleading. If current trends are any gage, what really irks many parents is the way in which youth advocates all too often disregard their parental rights.

Populist leader François Legault, backed by a parents’ coalition, has been riding high in the polls on a promise to abolish cegeps which he has characterized as daycares where youth, “hang out and smoke dope all day”.

Dr. Roy Eappen, an endocrinologist at St. Mary’s Hospital and a Côte-des-Neiges resident, was taken aback when he learned that the StreetWork project was promoting a harm-reduction approach to drug-use. “I thought that it (Head & Hands) was an STDs [sexually-transmitted diseases] clinic,” he said.

Dr. Eappen’s mother was a doctor at Head & Hands free clinic back in the early years. But these days the clinic provides a lot more than testing and treatment for STDs, or contraception, for youths between 12-19 years of age.

According to Head & Hands’ Annual Report for 2010-11, one out of every four visits to the clinic is from a transgender youth seeking access to hormone treatment. The report states that Head & Hands supports hormone access for transgender persons.

The press release also states that staff members will continue to accompany young women to their abortions - something that StreetWorkers used to do - but makes no mention of parental notification. Also, its brochure on abortion says that parental consent is not necessary for girls 14 years of age and over in Quebec.

There is no law on abortion in Canada. However, parental consent is still required whenever a minor undergoes any medical procedure.

It is perhaps not surprising then that this project was flagged for defunding, notwithstanding budgetary cuts across the board. Head & Hands’ critics say that it has an activist agenda that runs up against community standards.

The Annual Report(s) for 2010-11 and 2009-10 make light of illegal drug-use, and emphasize non-judgement over criminal justice issues. Critics also highlight the organization’s working relationship with transgender groups on behalf of sexual diversity.

The Annual Report for 2009-10 boasts that Head & Hands’ members can often be seen demonstrating for abortion, and all of the organization’s literature makes similar pointed references to support for abortion.

However, registered charitable organizations are prohibited by law from identifying with any one side of a controversy. Head & Hands is funded by all three levels of government, Centraide, and various charitable foundations.

[ Deborah Rankin ]

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