The needle exchange program housed in the Rainbow + Community Center on North Main Street decided to dissolve earlier this week. The center’s president also decided to step down.
According to Samantha Brown, the new president, these decisions were made at a meeting on Tuesday night.
The needle or syringe exchange program, called Friends with a Point, allowed people who regularly perform injections to bring their dirty needles in for new ones. The program aimed to help prevent the spread of injection-related diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
However, the program was very controversial. Brown said when she reached out to local businesses and corporations in Butte for funding, they did not want to have their name associated with a needle exchange. She said this lack of funding, not enough volunteers, and a string of recent thefts from the center led her and the other board members to get rid of the program.
“As an LGBT group in general, we are a taboo thing in our society,” Brown said. “We aren’t strong enough to crawl out from under the needle exchange stigma, too.”
Brown also said the center wants to start hosting more youth groups and would have a hard time doing so if the exchange program were there. The Rainbow + Community Center plans to donate their Friends with a Point supplies to other needle exchange programs across the state.
“The decision was really hard, but we didn’t see a way out,” Brown said.
Also on Tuesday night, former Rainbow + Center and Butte Aids Support Services Inc. President Corey Baker stepped down. Brown said it had nothing to do with Friends with a Point dissolving and that Baker will still be a part of the LGBTQ+ safe space as a volunteer.
“It was a decision in the making. He’s been on the board in one way or another for 12 years,” Brown said. “He’s not leaving on bad terms, just on life terms.”
According to Baker, he planned to take about six months off from his charity work once his wife had their baby in August. But Baker was worried the Butte Aids Support Services organization, which the Rainbow + Center branched out of, would fail if he did.
“I’ve decided to step down mostly because there are a few new board members and I know the organization is taken care of now,” Baker said.
Baker plans to volunteer with the center still, but he said as a board member, he was putting in more hours than he had to give. He said he had nothing to do with the needle exchange dissolving and is a little upset that it is.
However, Baker also said he is really happy with the way the Rainbow + Center is headed and thinks they “are doing some amazing things.”
Although the needle exchange program is gone, the Rainbow + Center will still offer HIV and hepatitis C testing, education, and information on LGBTQ+-specific health topics through Butte Aids Support Services.
“Everything else will continue, except the needle exchange,” Brown said.