New York City, East Village, 1988: Tompkins Square Park, between Avenues A and B, was known for its punks, heroin dealers and more than 150 homeless people living there because they had no place else. On August 6, 44 people were injured when police incited a riot. Five months later, Lou Reed released “Halloween Parade,” his tribute to comrades lost to HIV/AIDS including “the boys from Avenue B, the girls from Avenue D.”
Saint John, 1988: The volunteer committee created to support people living with and dying of HIV/AIDS in Saint John applied for incorporation as AIDS Saint John Inc. AIDS Saint John operated on a harm reduction philosophy before that term was even coined. We never said, “Don’t have sex.” We said: “Here, have some condoms!” When the main source of new HIV infections shifted from gay men to people injecting drugs, we started handing out clean needles. And we quickly discovered that the same behaviours that created risks for HIV/AIDS also created risks for Hepatitis C and other sexually-transmitted and/or blood-borne infections (STBBIs).
Saint John, 2018: We’re shifting our focus away from a specific disease to the people we work with and the philosophy that underlies our work. Our new name? Avenue B Harm Reduction Inc. To our friends – which we hope includes you! – we’re Avenue B.