Part 1- Profile Story
Sharing is caring, a behind the scenes look at an intern with a passion!
By: Sammy Brenner
Squeaky aged hardwood floors and old furniture set up to look like a family room crowd the main office of the White Bird Clinic located on E. 12th Ave. An elderly homeless man is curled up like a baby in oversized chair and stares blankly at the softly painted cream colored wall. The unused fireplace provides no light, but the large elegantly framed windows allow the rare natural rays of the sun to seep in. A vibrant dream catcher hangs peacefully on the wall next to the main office desk to ward off any evil spirits that may enter the clinic. While the physical appearance of the community crisis center is inviting, there is an unexplainable feeling of tension and sadness.
Kristi Munyan, 20, manages and runs the operations at the front desk she is the first to interact with people when they walk through the doors of the clinic. Her primary job is to take crisis calls and filter the information, determining if she can handle the problem or if the situation is too grave and needs to be passed on to a counselor. “It’s a little overwhelming at first but I’ve got a system to say calm” said Kristi with a timid smile. Munyan has been an intern at White Bird for over ten months and plans to stay with the clinic after she finishes college and continues on to graduate school.
Her education is what initially attracted Munyan to Eugene, however; she was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. Munyan left her hometown to start her college career at Northwestern Christian University and said “I like the small size of Northwestern Christian University because I get more one-on-one interaction with my professors.” While most college students switch their major several times before making a final decision, Munyan has known that psychology was always a path she wanted to explore. As a junior at the University she is studying psychology and eventually wants to become a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) counselor for the military. “I wanted to get an internship somewhere that would allow me to refine my counseling skills, that’s why I ended up here” said Munyan as she duly assisted a middle aged homeless man trying to call the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) dispatch. The man was clearly on drugs, but Munyan held her composure and did her best to keep him tranquil. Situations like these are “daily occurrences” said Munyan. Most would be inundated yet she isn’t ruffled by the distressing interaction in the least.
The White Bird Clinic is open 24 hours 7 days a week and has been host to hundreds of people in the homeless community of Eugene. The doors are never closed to talk to a counselor, and their mobile crisis intervention team is prepared for any medical situation that arises. While Munyan isn’t part of the CAHOOTS team, she is an avid supporter and has nothing but positive things to say about the program. “White Bird does excellent work and I believe that drug use has decreased in the community because of the services we provide” said Munyan. Her internship has given her the tools to deal with difficult situations she says “I’m learning to integrate and build my own style of counseling. White Bird gives people an outlet to talk about their problems, this is a safe place.”
Due to the extremely sensitive nature of the issues that walk through the doors of the clinic, the employee’s, volunteers and interns are selected carefully. Munyan compassionately listens as the homeless man repeatedly mumbles “I don’t want to die out here.” It’s evident Munyan is focused, driven and hard working between her class schedule and interning several days a week, nevertheless; her innate need to help others effortlessly radiates through her work.
Part 2- Q & A with Lindsay Walker a volunteer at the Needle Exchange
How long have you been volunteering with HIV Alliance?
I have been volunteering with HIV Alliance, specifically the Needle Exchange and HIV Testing for 9 months.
Is it hard to be a volunteer at the Needle Exchange, do you ever feel attached to a patient?
As a Needle Exchange worker it is difficult not to bare the weight of the clients that use our services. Many are homeless, unemployed, and do not have a very reliable support system. At the exchange we help them out as best we can, but beyond that, there is not much else we can do. It is hard to except that this is the life people choose for themselves. As a volunteer we can only provide the tools for users to lower their risk while using injection drugs.
Have you ever turned down a person who came to get materials for any reason (on too many drugs)?
Personally, I have never turned down anyone who has come to the exchange. However, I have heard of instances when it has occurred. If a client is so intoxicated and/ or high that it puts the volunteers and staff at danger they will be denied service and asked to leave. We are volunteering to help people and when the people that we are giving up our time for are clearly not respectful putting us and other clients in a dangerous situation the staff has no problem not allowing them the privilege of our service.
Do you feel that drug use has increased or decreased in the last couple years in the Jefferson Westside district?
I could not exactly say if the drug use has increased or decreased, however I am aware that within the last couple of years the amount of needles exchanged at the Alliance has increased dramatically. This could be due to a few reasons. The first being that HIV Alliance is now the only needle exchange program in Lane County, this time last year the other program closed down. Also, it could be due to drug users becoming more aware of the risk factors that go along with sharing needles like HIV and Hepatitis C. The needle exchange is also a very safe place to dispose used needles so people can get their remnants of drug use off of their hands.
Have you ever felt scared or unsafe while volunteering?
I usually feel fairly safe while volunteering. There are always at least four of us working the exchange including the needle exchange coordinator, who is a staff member at the Alliance. There have been times where a client has made an inappropriate comment or an uncomfortable advance however we have been trained how to avoid/ escape situations so they do not escalade into larger ones.
Do you think this program has helped to inform drug users in the community a safe way to use drug and a way to quit if they want too?
Yes, I think the Needle Exchange program does an excellent job with educating drug users about the dangers of sharing as well as ways they can go about eliminating their risk factors. Not only do we offer clean needles but also clean supplies such as cookers, cottons, and waters. Many times, what drug users do not know is that Hepatitis C can live up to 18 hours outside of the body, so even if needles are not being shared the virus can very well spread by just using the “works” that injection drug users use. We also offer HIV and Hepatitis C testing at the HIV Alliance office as well as out in the van so people now can be aware of their status as well as the status of their friends they use with. We also have a binder full of information about detox and treatment available upon any client’s request. There are many different reverences for doctors and rehabilitation centers all around the county. As volunteers we hope that every client asks for that information but even if they do not we are at least providing them with safer tools to use greatly reducing their risk.
Part 3- Intro/ Backgrounder
Eugene, OR- One doesn’t have to look hard to find the beauty in the city of Eugene. Between a thriving University with outstanding academics, to the breathtaking views and outdoor activities some would say this city has it all. While Eugene is full of natural beauty, there is an unfortunate downside that comes with a price. Eugene has a large homeless population and with that often follows drug abuse; which is no stranger to this area. Drug abuse has plagued Eugene for decades but the city isn’t sitting back quietly without a fight. Programs like CAHOOTS( Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) and HIV Alliance are promoting safety and awareness for drug users, while the police force and city counsel are continuously working hard to provide protection for the citizens.
No one feels the weight of making our community a safer place more than Kitty Piercy, the mayor of Eugene. The city has shelters and drug rehab programs but more help is always needed, Piercy said, “We do a great job and have excellent service providers. It’s just the need is great and continues to grow.” Even with powerful people lobbying for change, the issue of drug abuse is continuing to grow.
Any effort to make this city become less dependent on drug use will be a huge project that involves different resources with one driving force behind them. Drug abuse is an extremely dangerous addiction due to the intense hold it has over its users. Sergeant McCormick of the Vice-Narcotics Unit said “shelter and food often take a back seat when it comes to addiction.” Drug abuse deals with so many issues that go beyond the act of using itself, Piercy said “I think drug abuse is very costly for our community. Many crimes are for funds to purchase or because someone is under the influence of drugs. It effects child abuse and domestic violence and health in general. It causes some folks to be unable to hold jobs so they can have the basics of food and shelter.”
While the issue seems almost impossible to attempt to fix, there are good things happening in Eugene that are bringing awareness and understanding to the complex problem. The White Bird Clinic offers an array of services from counseling to medical treatment, and HIV Alliance has a program called Needle Exchange, the main goal being to get dirty needles off the streets and prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Although Sergeant McCormick has seen a steady increase in drug use within the Eugene community he still holds faith “ I’ve worked here for 25 years and don’t think anyone is hopeless, I believe in the potential of any individual addicted to drugs. Redemption for them is redemption for me, it’s why I love my job.”