Schenectady County

Van offers help for drug users in Schenectady

Project Safe Point, a program for drug users run by Catholic Charities AIDS Services, recently expan

Project Safe Point, a program for drug users run by Catholic Charities AIDS Services, recently expanded its services in Schenectady.

Three afternoons a week, a white outreach van now parks in the parking lot of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry food pantry at 839 Albany St. and opens its doors to anyone in need.

The little medical office on wheels, which took to the road in July, offers clients free HIV and hepatitis C testing, as well as a place to safely dispose of syringes and obtain new, sterile ones. Trained staff is also on hand to counsel those interested in entering a drug treatment program, and drug overdose prevention training is also offered.

• Project Safe Point’s outreach van offers free, walk-in services in the parking lot of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry food pantry at 839 Albany St. from 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For more information, visit or call 449-3581.

• The AIDS Council of Northeastern New York offers free, confidential, walk-in HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis C testing from its mobile testing van from 4 to 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday from March through October in the SICM food pantry parking lot. For information, call 445-AIDS (2437) or visit

Response to the new service has been excellent, said Angela Keller, executive director of Catholic Charities AIDS Services.

“We’ve had people in the neighborhood come up and thank us for being there,” she said. “Many of them have brought friends that they think need this service.”

The program caters to people who use syringes for illegal drugs, insulin, hormones, steroids and other medications.

At a glance

Many clients aren’t connected with traditional medical care, noted Nancy Fisher, director of prevention services for the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York, an organization that collaborates with Catholic Charities on Project Safe Point.

All of the outreach program’s clients remain anonymous.

“It’s really up to each person to decide if they are comfortable coming to the van itself and accessing services. I think once that person makes that determination, they establish a relationship with us and a level of trust that enables them to come back,” Keller said.

The AIDS Council has a peer program that teams people who represent the at-risk population with Project Safe Point staff members. Together, they go out into local neighborhoods to promote the program and try to make clients feel more comfortable about coming to the van.

“I think that model of hearing about the service from people who look like themselves, people who might be trusted resources already in the community, especially for something like syringe exchange, which can be a little scary … I think it really helps to kind of get an endorsement from local community members, as opposed to just hearing about it from service providers,” said Fisher. “It’s definitely a model that nationally has been researched and shown to work, and significantly decrease HIV rates.”

The outreach work provided by staff members often goes beyond the program’s main medical mission.

“We’re always asking if [clients] have other needs. A number of the people that we serve are homeless, may not have adequate food. When it gets toward the winter months, we may be assisting people with coats and boots and things of that nature,” Keller explained.

Having the van in Schenectady on a set schedule is the best way to bring about positive change, because you never know when someone will decide to make a move to change their life, she said.

“We have an array of services available to help them make positive changes when they’re ready,” she assured.

The program is accruing its share of success stories. “We have several, where after some period of time of engaging with us or using our services, someone will come onto the van and say, ‘I’m done. I want to make a change. I can’t live this life anymore.’ And usually within 24 hours, we can get them into treatment,” Keller said.

Project Safe Point, which is funded entirely by state grants, introduced services to Schenectady in 2006, when a syringe disposal kiosk was placed in the foyer of Hometown Health Center on State Street. In 2008, the program began offering vouchers that can be turned for free, sterile syringes and HIV prevention information at Hometown Health Center and the Rite Aid Pharmacy on Eastern Parkway.

Project Safe Point has been operating in Albany since 2006. An outreach van like the one serving Schenectady began servicing that city in 2010.

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