The HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County (HEPPAC) is a 501(c)(3) organization known in the community as "Casa Segura," which means Safe House. We work in partnership with the AIDS Project of the East Bay to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C among injection drug users (IDUs) and other at-risk populations in the city of Oakland and throughout Alameda County.
In July of 1992, four HIV/AIDS activists formed the Alameda County Exchange (ACE), a volunteer-run needle exchange program born out of frustration with the failure of politicians, public health officials and community leaders to recognize an urgent public health crisis—the AIDS epidemic.
Scott Halem was an HIV/AIDS educator and co-founder of the Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution in Berkeley. Ricky Bluthenthal was researching the spread of HIV among IDUs in Oakland at the University of California at San Francisco. Gerald Lenoir was executive director of
Working for Casa Segura
"I learn more about the 'life' and different lifestyles of people affected by HIV and Hep. C, homelessness and addiction."
—Casa Segura Staff Member
the San Francisco-based Black Coalition on AIDS. And Amy Shutkin was active in the movement to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.
Contrary to the myth that needle exchange means freely distributing syringes to IDUs, the ACE founders understood that trading clean needles for dirty needles would reduce needle sharing and so help stop the spread of HIV. At the time, needle exchange programs were illegal in California, but the founders chose to defy the law to save lives.
Enduring police harassment and community resistance, ACE began exchanging needles in West Oakland, then in 1994 added exchange locations in the Fruitvale and Deep East Oakland Districts. In 1996, the non-profit organization, HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County (HEPPAC), was established to open a drop-in center where drug users could get off the street, clean up, eat and rest. The safe house was called Casa Segura.
In 2000, the governor of California declared the AIDS epidemic a State of Emergency and legally sanctioned needle exchange programs. With funding from the Alameda County Health Department, HEPPAC took over the ACE needle exchanges. That same year, an arsonist burnt Casa Segura to the ground.
By 2002, HEPPAC had raised enough funds to purchase the building at 5323 Foothill Blvd. and, despite hot opposition, secured a permit in 2003 to operate it as a safe house. Our harm reduction programs were proven effective when, in 2004, the number of new AIDS cases in Alameda County dropped to the lowest since 1990.
Casa Segura has expanded its harm reduction programs to include HIV testing, counseling, care and treatment, making us a primary healthcare provider for the at-risk community. Our goal is to become a one-stop clinic for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
In the political arena, Casa Segura is a becoming an active public health advocate for IDUs. We're developing a program so that we have a stronger voice in government, enabling us to influence policy makers. With your support, we can bring about positive change in public policy on HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment.
Who Casa Segura Helps
We help the people in our community who are most at risk of being infected by HIV and Hepatitis C. More than 85 percent are people of color. Two thirds are men. Many live on the street and suffer from mental illness and other chronic health conditions.
In one 12-month period, we served 23,277 clients. That number is growing as we become better known in the community as a trusted and safe service provider.