Intricate Minds promotes harm reduction as a road to recovery

It may be the only place in Springfield where a person can get a haircut and a meth pipe for free.

Intricate Minds provides free hypodermic needles and pipes to those struggling with addiction as part of a harm-reduction strategy designed to reduce the spread of disease.

“We provide clean syringes and pipes. We have Narcan and fentanyl test strips. I want to keep people who are in active use safe,” said Tiara Standage, who founded the nonprofit in March 2023 and recently relocated it to a storefront at 619 North Grand Ave.

click to enlarge Intricate Minds promotes harm reduction as a road to recovery
Tiara Standage, founder of Intricate Minds, in front of the nonprofit’s new location at 619 North Grand Ave.

Her organization provides a variety of services to at-risk populations ranging from mentally ill people to homeless individuals to those struggling with substance abuse.

The center also gives away condoms, pregnancy tests, Plan B and hosts a class called “Period Poo.”

“It's an educational class to teach young ladies about their bodies, their periods and sexual health. And we just recently partnered with Planned Parenthood,” said Standage. “We give away clothes and shoes, hygiene kits, we do free haircuts on Monday.  We have several support groups,” she said. Among them is a men’s mental health group and one for adult children of people who abuse drugs and alcohol.

It’s a subject that hits too close to home for Standage, who lost her mother to a fentanyl overdose.

“It wasn't surprising. She was an active user almost all of my life. It's hard to talk about sometimes, but when you have a family member that's an active user, you're always trying to get them to rehab and get them the help they need. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't,” she said.

“I wish I would have known the principles of harm reduction that I know now. When my mother was still alive, I was just always taught if she's not clean to stay away. And that's exactly the opposite of what harm reduction is. Harm reduction is meeting people wherever they're at in their addiction. Some people aren't ready to stop using drugs. With harm reduction, abstinence from drugs is not a requirement for help,” Standage said.

Not everyone is so sanguine about her approach.

She said Intricate Minds was forced to vacate its previous location in the Southtown neighborhood at South Grand Avenue and 11th Street.

“My neighbors over there and the city didn't want me there doing harm reduction,” Standage said. “I opened on Dec. 1 as a community center and not even a couple weeks later, I had seven city inspectors in there. We passed the inspection. And (there was) just a lot of back-and-forth from the city and my landlord.”

She said she was asked to leave by her landlord.

Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory, who represents the Southtown area, said there was concern that homeless people were congregating around the center and that it might become a shelter.  Also, there was a fear that discarded needles might litter the neighborhood.

“I just don't want to see that all over Southtown,” he said. “We're trying to get things cleaned up.

Gregory said that like Standage, he also has personal experience with family members who used drugs. “I get the services that she provides, and I respect those services. Both my parents were on drugs. I grew up in a foster home all my life. So, I get what she's trying to do,” he said. “I'm not educated on harm reduction. I don't know enough about it to be a fan or be against it.”

The concern is without merit, said Sara Bowen-Lasisi, who volunteers for Intricate Minds and has experience in harm reduction and public health.

click to enlarge Intricate Minds promotes harm reduction as a road to recovery
Every Monday, several barbers take turns providing free haircuts for adults and children at Intricate Minds. WillOTheBarber cuts a client’s hair on March 18.
“It's not valid in any way, shape or form. Harm reduction is evidence-based. It's not something I have to convince anybody that works,” she said. “There's plenty of research and evidence that shows that harm reduction absolutely does work without increasing syringe litter within the community as well as not increasing overall drug use in the community. … People who enter into harm reduction services are three to five times more likely to seek out abstinence-based recovery.”

Bowen-Lasisi said the center has been welcomed in the Enos Park neighborhood.

“These are humans; they're people, they need love and attention and compassion, just like your average person who does not use drugs,” said volunteer Tabi Griggs.

“So if you give them that same attention and compassion and treat them like a human, then you can meet them where they're at and hopefully lead them to a road to recovery.”

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

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