ITHACA, N.Y. — Supported by a new $100,000 pilot grant, the City of Ithaca is investing in research to determine the viability of a supervised injection facility and Health Hub to help people experiencing drug addiction.

About 350 cities applied for the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge and Ithaca was selected as one of 35 finalists for the award. This means the city is granted $100,000 to research how a SIF and Health Hub could work best locally.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday night by the Common Council, the city agreed to accept the money to go forward with the research, which will involve several local stakeholders but be primarily run through the Southern Tier AIDS Program, where the current needle exchange operates. The STAP in Ithaca has been a vocal supporter of harm reduction services rather than relying solely on abstinence-only programs.

Fourth Ward Alderperson Stephen Smith will be part of a working group along with Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons; Michelle McElroy.
deputy executive director of the Southern Tier AIDS Program; Katharine Celentano, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy

Smith said the crux of the research will be qualitative and based on interviews with people facing drug addiction and on researching best practices for harm reduction services.

For instance, he said, the Health Hub could run the gamut for providing services, from giving people a place to shower and wash clothes to having medical professionals on hand and helping people enroll in government programs to obtain affordable housing and job placement. A Supervised Injection Facility fits into this mission and is also being studied because it gives people a place to use drugs and consider their options.

“When somebody is dope sick and itching for their next fix … that’s not the time when they’re going to be most responsive to getting better and getting off of drugs,” Smith said.

But the entire aspiration for a successful Health Hub and SIF is solely dependent on whether drug users trust the system and the people running the programs.

“We have to engage them in a different way than the legal system currently does and there’s a lot of vulnerability there,” Smith said.

So it is a top priority to protect people’s privacy while they are engaging in intimate conversations about their drug use and what kind of treatment could work for them.

The outcome of the study and implementation of the resources over the next four months is essential, Smith said.

As a finalist in the challenge, the city is vying for the grand prize from the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Bloomberg will pick five of the 35 finalists and award one of them $5 million and the four cities $1 million each.

Smith said that if the city wins, the money will go toward making the Health Hub a reality — staffing it, making renovations on an appropriate building, purchasing supplies, and other operational needs.

Final submissions for the million dollar grants are at the end of the summer.

Featured photo: Clean materials available for drug users in the mock safe consumption site May 2 on the Ithaca Commons. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.