FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – In response to comments made by Fresno city leaders earlier Monday morning, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors fired back, claiming that comments made by Mayor Jerry Dyer and Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Miguel Arias were incorrect.
Monday’s controversy over the proposed needle exchange in Downtown Fresno began at Fresno City Hall when three city council members publicly spoke out against the proposal (click here for more information). During that press conference, Councilmember Miguel Arias called out DA Lisa Smittcamp on the issue of needle exchanges (click here for more information). The entire exchange prompted a critical response from Fresno County that same afternoon.
In a letter from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, the members laid direct facts of why the information presented by Fresno city officials was invalid.
- Fact 1: The Harm Reduction Pilot Program (San Joaquin Valley Free Medical Clinic and Needle Exchange), is not funded by the County. It’s a state-funded program currently operating in the City of Fresno and has been for over 20 years. Though the program has been operating for years in the city near Roeding Park, the County has not provided funds to underwrite the program. The persons served to span the entire socioeconomic and demographic spectrum from the unhoused to those who live in the suburbs.
- Fact 2: The program is only on Saturdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. It will not operate daily or beyond two hours a week.
- Fact 3: Because of the ample space available at the Department of Public Health (DPH) building and the current rate of participation, all persons served would be able to wait inside the building instead of waiting in lines outdoors. Proposed resources including security would ensure a secure and safe environment for both the administrators of the program and persons served, both inside and outside the facility.
- Fact 4: By having the services at DPH, wrap-around services are available to provide these persons with more comprehensive and holistic services including the following: Medi-Cal, CalWorks (employment services), CalFresh for food insecurity issues, general relief, access to housing navigation, and behavioral health and opioid treatment programs.
- Fact 5: The program was listed in a Board Briefing Report (a public document) as of August 14, 2023. The item wasn’t voted on until September 5th. Throughout these 22 days, the County has never received any calls from the Mayor, councilmembers, or city staff about their concerns.
- Fact 6: The goal of the pilot program is to reduce the harm caused by intravenous drug
- use including blood-borne illnesses (Hepatitis B and C, soft tissue infections, and HIV/AIDS), which is under the auspices of the Public Health Department. The program will lift the strain experienced at local hospitals and clinics that are already over capacity.
- Fact 7: Contrary to Councilmember Bredefeld’s statements, the state program does NOT distribute any drugs to persons served.
Supervisor Brian Pacheco also issued a statement following the conference saying he felt it was in the best interest for those administering the program and the program clients to be taken from the street and moved indoors to the Fresno County Department of Public Health facility.
“Because the program only operates on Saturdays for a limited time period, I did not believe it would impact the businesses downtown,” Pacheco wrote in the statement.
Pacheco went on to state that in addition to the needle exchange, this program operates as a low-barrier clinic utilized by the most vulnerable in the community population.
“It’s a place where they are treated with respect and dignity. The health clinic helps reduce the burden of these vulnerable residents and prevents them from having to go to our overwhelmed emergency rooms.
Pacheco added that the needle exchange allows users to properly dispose of their needles rather than leaving them in parks and schoolyards.
“That is why I supported moving this program from the streets to our County Health Department,” said Pacheco.