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Mobile Needle Exchange Near Elementary School Is Assailed

June 26, 1994|SCOTT SHIBUYA BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To Jerry Schneiderman, a Hollywood real estate developer, it's bad enough what goes on inside the Ford Bronco: a needle exchange program run by social service volunteers hoping to halt the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users.

But what's worse, he and other business people believe, is where the once-a-week exchange occurs: across the street from Selma Elementary School, near the corner of Selma and Cherokee avenues.

"That is the height of stupidity," fumed Schneiderman, a member of the Hollywood Property Owners Assn. board of trustees. "To set up a location for drug users to come that's in front of an elementary school . . . that's insane."

Not so, say supporters of the 6-month-old program, who deem the mobile needle exchange as not only a responsible way to combat AIDS infection, but also an effective means of bringing drug users into rehabilitation programs.

"Hollywood has attracted problem kids and runaway kids for 50 years," said Roxana Tynan, community advocate for Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, whose district includes Hollywood. "They're going to be here whether there are services or not."

Through the program, drug users can get clean syringes--along with items such as distilled water, bleach and condoms--after they turn in their dirty needles.

Though the concept of needle exchanges has received the support of the City Council and the mayor's office, Tynan said, technically the practice is still illegal in the state.

In this case, the bigger issue is where the needle exchanges have occurred. Though it takes place only on Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., Schneiderman said those who use the service stay in the area to take drugs after they get their clean needles. Usually, more than 200 syringes are turned in.

"They hang around the school because that (area is) where they get free needles and free services," said Schneiderman, who would rather such exchanges be done at the offices of social agencies. "Why should they go anywhere else?"

But Tynan said the site is well-placed. Within half a block of Selma and Cherokee, she said, there are four social service agencies, including the Teen Canteen and the YMCA.

Besides, Tynan said, no one at Selma Elementary School, including teachers, children and parents, has complained about the exchange or reported any problems arising from it.

"Because it's after school hours, it doesn't impact the school," said Selma Elementary School Principal Doris Dent.

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