The Rev Pat Simpson. Photograph: Patrick Kehoe for the Guardian
Simpson told:” When you look at the list of participants in the taskforce that recommended this and assure the law enforcement representation there, the medical community, several layers of government, we’re part of a broad coalition that believes it’s the right thing to do.
” This is not some wildcat renegade attempt. It’s well planned and it’s being to be undertaken by knowledgeable people based on this long experience elsewhere. That’s why we have the confidence to do this and intend to brave the blizzard of whatever the opponent might be .”
She added:” We’re a congregation of people who appreciate science and are willing to look at the evidence and not only will vary depending on gut reactions or public prejudice .”
Jama, who believes drugs should be legalised, says much of the opposition comes from dread and ignorance of nimbys( adherents to a” not in my backyard” view ).” They have met a drug user or have had a drug user in their life that they have negative impressions about and they hypothesise that all drug users are like that. We are not a homogenised group of people.
” They have been very vile in their treatment of us. When I was on the street, passersby called me disgusting and gross and spitted at me. I find them as no different to these people who are blinded by their own rage and dislike .”
Seattle-born Jama, who expended time in foster care as small children, spoke of his own drug experiences. He tried magic mushroom on a camping trip aged 13, began taking LSD in high school, and eventually ended up homeless with a heroin habit. He suffered a lot of trauma, he told, and felt a lot of anger.
The turning point went when his best friend died from an overdose in the mid-1 990 s. He volunteered at the needle exchange and discovered his vocation.
He also founded a drug users’ union, the Urban Survivors’ Union, which lobbies for alternative medication laws. He gratified his wife, a mental health employee whom he describes as” one of the best things in my life”, when she was helping out at the exchange.
Jama calls the 60 to 90 daily visitors to the exchange “my family”. They were all invited to his mermaid and unicorn-themed wedding reception, held in the alley next to Simpson’s church.
The PHRA now operates in eight locatings, in Washington and Oregon. It has five the workers and 250 volunteers, of which 51% have to be drug users.
” So many people come into the exchange with smiles- this is the only service that treats them with respect and dignity ,” he said.” I tell,’ I love you only the route you are and I’m proud of you only the way you are ,’ and some people look at me like I’m a crazy person, and other people give me big hugs .”
Jama still uses illegal drugs occasionally. Holding up his takeaway coffee cup, he points out that most people employ some stimulant- whether caffeine, alcohol or illegal drugs.
He’s keen to stress that he is lobbying for the other proposals contained in the taskforce recommendations, as well as the safe intake sites.
” We need to focus on mental health services and treatment on demand for folks who are in chaotic utilize. There is chaotic drug use and there is stable drug use. We want to keep people on stable drug use .”
Whether a safe-use room at the church will be part of that mission remains to be seen.