2014 Prize Winner
She [works] with some of the most vulnerable people in our community, and authentically holds the hope for them when they are hopeless. The nonprofit sector is broad in its scope and not everyone is doing work that saves lives. Haven is.
- Kathy Oliver, Executive Director, Outside In
Haven Wheelock doesnt keep an appointment book. Instead, she spends large parts of the workday standing in her doorway. As the syringe exchange program coordinator at Outside In, she encounters more than 200 clients daily, and sees them one-on-one whenever they need her.
Who gets to see me? she says from an office with forest green walls, blue lamps, and half-drawn blinds. Whoever walks through the door. I have no criteria. If my door is open, Im ready to talk.
Wheelock has a lot to talk about. The syringe exchange program, which promotes health among people who inject drugs, exists in part to offer HIV testing and a safe, clean spot for needle exchange, but also provides Naloxone trainings on demand.
Naloxone is a clear liquid drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, or, as Wheelock puts it, Magic in a bottle. In July 2013, due to legislation she helped write, it became legal for non-doctors to have, carry and use the drug. Now, clients at Outside In can become trained to administer Naloxen by Wheelock and her staff.
Is Naloxone a Band-Aid? Wheelock says, answering a question she hears a lot. Yeah. It is. We need Band-Aids. Dead people dont get to go to treatment. If you die, you dont get to make those changes. And I want people to have a chance.
According to Wheelock, there is an overdose-related death every 19 minutes. But since the Naloxone law was passed last year, and Outside In began training Portlanders in its use, heroin deaths have dropped by nearly 29 percent.
These are people saving each other, she says. I get to empower them and provide them with tools to do that, but these are drug users who are saving the lives of each other. I find that brilliant and beautiful.
Wheelocks passion for the work of a syringe exchange program began in high school when she started doing HIV awareness work. She remembers her first training for a nonprofit job in New York.
To walk into this space of people who, historically, Ive been told are bad, theyre lazy, they have no willpower, they have no self control, she says. I went in afraid, but I knew there was no way that people there were any different than myself whos made plenty of mistakes.
Wheelock has no plans to do other work in the foreseeable future.
These are my people, she says. This is my community. And I love that. I feel like Im a part of the drug-using community and Im proud of that. By Steph Barnhart
Bottom Line for Portland
Haven coordinates the exchange of more than 750,000 needles annually and has conducted 900 Naloxone trainings in the past 18 months. More than 450 of those clients have reported an overdose reversal.
Her prize was generously sponsored by Willamette Week.