Mobile Unit Could Be In The Cards For Tippecanoe County's Newly-Established Syringe Exchange

Jan 9, 2017

Credit Steve Burns / WTIU

Tippecanoe County officials may be coalescing around the idea of using a mobile unit to house the county’s recently-approved syringe services program.

Earlier this month, the county commissioners approved a plan to apply for a nearly $33,000 grant from the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis to set up the service. However, neither West Lafayette nor Lafayette is champing at the bit to house the exchange in their respective cities. Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski is concerned the program will attract crime, and West Lafayette’s John Dennis is skeptical his city has the space to house the program in a widely-accessible location.

Indiana Recovery Alliance Director Chris Abert, who operates a mobile exchange in Monroe County in addition to a brick-and-mortar operation, says having a designated area has its perks, including space and safety:

“You can have a lot of other services in that building, you can have some shelter from street-based activities, you have increased privacy, on-site storage space, and more of a feeling of a safe space,” he says.

However, a mobile operation can reach more people who might not have access to transportation.

West Lafayette’s Dennis says he doesn’t think his city would be correct for a permanent set-up, thanks to lack of affordable downtown real estate.

“If you’re going to do something, you want to do something that’s going to have the most benefit, the most gain.” he says. “So you would have to put it in an area where the folks that are most likely to use it are going to use it. It has to be accessible and easily accessible.”

He said he would advocate for a mobile unit—if it were operated skillfully.

“When you go ahead and advertise the locations, when you go ahead and make sure the areas where the mobile unit will be set up are well-published …you’re going to have a greater opportunity to provide those services.”

Abert says the Recovery Alliance’s truck has meant they can reach a wider range of people—in his words, “literally meeting people where they are.”

He also says a van can circumvent fears from neighbors or other businesses.

“Typically, it seems a lot of people would be supportive of it unless it’s in their backyard,” he says. “If you’re in a fixed site and you find yourself the focus of community opposition that can obviously be problematic.”

But providing other resources such as counseling—services the state says must come with a syringe services program—is more difficult with a van’s limited square footage.