Advocates want needle exchange program in St. George to help city’s homeless, but not everyone’s on board

Stock image | Photo by kenishirotie/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Skyler Marshall, a tie-dye-wearing outreach worker at the nonprofit Youth Futures, sees the back of his van as his “bat cave,” crammed with intake forms, socks and hygiene kits so he can help homeless teens and adults at a moment’s notice.

Skyler Marshall, street outreach case manager for the nonprofit Youth Futures, driving in St. George, Utah, June 11, 2021 | Photo by Trent Nelson via The Salt Lake Tribune, St. George News

Back at the office, he keeps an old Tide Pod container filled with condoms, ready to offer to young people who need them. And when he’s doing street outreach, he picks up discarded candy wrappers and soda bottles from sites where unsheltered individuals might be camping, partly to keep their sleeping spots hidden from people who’d try to force them out.

To Marshall, though, these efforts don’t go far enough to protect homeless adults and teens, especially those who are dealing with addiction. There’s a personal stake in this for the St. George native, who said he’s lost several of his friends to hepatitis and AIDS — and believes their deaths might have been prevented if they’d had access to substance abuse counseling and clean syringes.

His hope is to see a needle exchange program come to St. George. But he’s not sure if the conservative southern Utah community will embrace it.

“It’s something that’s desperately needed,” he said, adding that the challenge is in “the image.”

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Written by BETHANY RODGERS and TAYLOR STEVENS, The Salt Lake Tribune.

This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aims to inform readers across the state.

Copyright 2021 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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