The Harm Reduction Principle

Face à Face is successful in their interventions because of their approach: a humanizing clinical framework that privileges the Harm Reduction Principle. The goal of the Harm Reduction Principle is to reduce harms associated to risky behaviours by actively involving individuals in their own recovery. Through guidance, individuals are encouraged to identify for themselves negative behaviours, and to remedy these slowly, until they get to the point where they are living a harm free life. Although this is an approach that is not always well-received, its success rate is higher than traditional, medical models, and this for many reasons. It’s a method that looks at systems of oppression – the consequences of racism, ableism, and of socio-political and gender inequalities and takes these into account in formulating strategies for recovery. Grace Fontes, the director of Face à Face, says “People don’t get up feeling like they don’t want to be part of a big social fabric. They want to, but things happen, and sometimes it’s out of their control.” Face a Face helps them gain back that control. Not many people ask their clients, “what do you want? what will work for you?” and perhaps, most importantly, “what does this mean to you?” It’s questions like these that place individuals at the center of their own healing by encouraging empowerment, self-determination, and individual dignity. Clearly, this is a method that works: Face à Face boasts over 22 000 interventions per year, and 200 volunteers that give them over 10 000 hours of volunteer work per year. Again, this is an approach that is not well funded, but that works. As Grace says, “What we do we do well. What we need to do now is find money.” Making up for lost funds is necessary to keep the organization running effectively in meeting their clients’ needs. Smaller organizations are often at the heart of their communities and do the hard work with very little fanfare. Face à Face is no different. They are not very well known to big funders, but to the 20 000 plus individuals who use their services every year, Face à Face does good work. It is word of mouth that has kept them going for all these years.

In keeping with the agencies inclusive and solution-based approach, Grace is confident, “we’re going to find allies that will allow us to be us.”  

Written by Emma Telaro