Tenderloin Police Recognize Glide Memorial’s Hep-C, HIV Program Manager Paul Harkin

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Healthcare, Human Interest, Religion

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Published on February 10, 2015 with 2 Comments

Glide Memorial HIV/Hep-C Service Manager Paul Harkin.

Glide Memorial HIV/Hep-C Program Manager Paul Harkin. Photo via Tenderloin Police Station.

Editor’s Note: This interview with Mr. Harkin was first published in the February edition of the Tenderloin Police Station’s monthly newsletter. It is reprinted here with permission from SFPD Captain Jason Cherniss.

February 10, 2015

Each month Tenderloin Police Station features a citizen who represents the unique flavor of the Tenderloin. This month we interviewed Paul Harkin. Paul has been working at Glide Memorial Church for the last five years.

How are you involved with the Tenderloin?
I work in the Tenderloin managing Glide’s HIV/Hepatitis C Prevention Program. I have been working at Glide for 5 years, and I have to say that I am so lucky to work at a job I love. I have done HIV/AIDS work in the Tenderloin for UCSF and Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center for 15 years, and have also lived in the neighborhood for 10 years. Up until recently, my 8-year old daughter and I lived, worked and played in the Tenderloin until rent increases forced us to move away.

Where did you work or reside prior to joining the Tenderloin community?
I am from Glasgow, Scotland originally, and I grew up in a pretty traditional working class family. I used to make music in a band and did a bit of video film making for a while. I benefited from the UK education system by getting a scholarship that paid me to go to university in London. I found this to be an excellent experience.

Just prior to coming to the USA in 1997, I was a volunteer counselor and harm reduction educator for “Release.” Release is a Community-Based Organization in London, UK. This was one of those turning points when I learned how satisfying it is to have meaningful work that helps people improve their lives. I worked the crisis line at Release, and while I was not one to swallow the media generated stereotypes of drug users, it was still a very eye opening experience for me to see the incredibly diverse range of drug users who called the line. It could be your mother, father, brother, sister, your son, or your daughter type thing – truly people from every walk of life.

I then traveled to Key West Florida and volunteered for the National AIDS Brigade doing HIV Prevention, HIV and Hepatitis C testing and Syringe Exchange. It was inspiring work. We educated the community and helped people who were infected get treatment. We also helped drug users access drug treatment.

Why did you choose the Tenderloin as a place to live and work?
This is an easy one to answer. I came to San Francisco in 1999 for a vacation. I was walking around the Tenderloin, and I just thought “wow!,” I appreciated the lively street culture. It reminded me of my childhood in Glasgow’s public housing estates. Obviously, a part of this street vibrancy was a lot of folks using drugs openly – a lot of street wheeling, dealing, and hustling action. The proximity of San Francisco’s upscale downtown scene to the Tenderloin was curious for me. I feel that people react to places like the Tenderloin by either wanting it to be swept away and out of view, or they ask, “How do we help make this better?”

I wanted to be a part of the solution.

What projects or organizations are you working on in the Tenderloin?
I manage the HIV Prevention Programs for the Glide Foundation. These programs include: community based outreach, HIV and Hepatitis “C” counseling and testing, providing linkage to care for people who test positive. Also, we provide syringe access and disposal services, along with drug overdose prevention and education.

HIV and Hep C testing are vital to the Tenderloin and although we are a relatively small program, last year we managed to provide 667 HIV and Hep C tests. Our Syringe Access Services had over 11,000 contacts with clients. I feel it is very important that the public understand the importance of Syringe Access and Disposal programs.

How have you seen the Tenderloin change in the time you’ve been here?
Urban communities are generally dynamic environments, so there will always be changes. The important thing from my perspective is to identify what is driving the changes and what is the desired outcome? The Tenderloin is one of the few working class low-income neighborhoods that are left in the city. The conundrum is how to maintain a community that is diverse, safe, and vibrant while also being affordable. I feel that the dueling extremes of poverty and affluence in this city are destructive and unsustainable.

Can you tell us something about the police in the Tenderloin?
I tend to see issues like drug use very differently than Law Enforcement. As I mentioned above, the thing that strikes me most is our failure to address the drug use that happens in our community. I know that many leading Police and Policy makers believe that we can never arrest our way out of the challenges of drug use. They cite the failure of a 50 year “War on Drugs” as evidence of the wastefulness of this policy and the terrible consequences that it has had on families and communities. Other countries have recognized that drug use is better dealt with under the umbrella of Public Health. I believe that in our community we have to be bolder and create evidence-based public health interventions that will provide real solutions.

Locally, I like that police host their own community meetings and send delegates to community meetings. They demonstrate that they are involved in the community building process. Captain Cherniss and the Tenderloin SFPD are very present in the community and they are willing to listen to public feedback, whether positive or negative. To me this is an essential component of policing – to be available and accountable to those you serve.

What are your favorite parts of the neighborhood?
When I do evening street outreach with my team, the vast majority of folks who are hanging on the street are so grateful and appreciative that we are doing this work. This is counter to the stereotype.

I love shooting hoops at the gym or in the new Boeddeker Park. Even though I am the oldest rookie in the world, I play hard. I love meeting people, and eating incredible daal and saag-paneer at our awesome Indian eateries. Also, I do enjoy an occasional post work pint of IPA while chatting with some locals or coworkers.

Tell us something about the Tenderloin that people should know.
I think we would do well to look at the life and example of Father Alfred Boeddeker. His unconditional love for community and his commitment to the poorest and most marginalized folks in our community should inspire all of us to be change makers.

One more thing we should know about you?
I play guitar and dream of being a rock star. Maybe in the next life.

  • Tom Calvanese

    Way to represent, Paul! The TL is lucky to have you, brother.

  • Annabel Johnson

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