While working at an internship for Prevention Point in 2020, Shannon Ashe took note of all the people she encountered without housing each day and ran to the nearest dollar store. Packing bags full of Narcan and snacks, she began distributing resources to the people she met while walking up and down the streets and subways of Kensington and Center City.
“I just started going down there and making friends and getting to know people and just kind of being like, ‘Hey, I saw this is a problem and I wanted to try and support you guys,’” said Ashe, a 2020 Temple University alumna who received a master’s degree in social work.
In March, Ashe started The Everywhere Project, a nonprofit that raises awareness of overdose prevention and harm reduction practices to Philadelphia communities impacted by substance use. Ashe partnered with co-founder Jen Shinefeld, a field epidemiologist and 2017 Temple alumna who received a master’s in epidemiology, to start the organization.
The organization provides those in need with food, clothing, clean syringes, fentanyl testing strips, safer smoke kits and harm reduction education. It also offers Naloxone and overdose reversal training.
The Everywhere Project receives a nasal form of Naloxone for free through Pennsylvania’s Naloxone Distribution Program. Naloxone is a medication used to temporarily counteract effects of a known or suspected opioid overdose, according to Narcan’s website.
The organization collects resources like clothing and hygiene products through fundraisers, and recently started one on Oct. 23 to gather supplies for more than 300 individuals who will be without housing this winter. Through this fundraiser, they hope to be better equipped for their outreach moving forward and expand to other parts of Philadelphia, Ashe said.
Ashe and Shinefeld started The Everywhere Project after meeting while they were both separately distributing essentials to homeless people in Philadelphia in 2020. They wanted to reduce the stigma surrounding individuals without housing and have conversations to educate people on safe practices and alternative solutions to drug use, Ashe said.
Drug overdoses rose by 30 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 1,000 people in Philadelphia alone died from opioid use in 2020, WHYY reported.
The opioid crisis has contributed to people experiencing homelessness more frequently, as approximately 5,700 people are considered to be without housing in Philadelphia, which includes about 950 who are unsheltered, according to the city’s Office of Homeless Services.
To bring attention to the issue, Ashe and Shinefeld started making tie-dye shirts with the phrase “Harm Reduction is Love” across the front. All proceeds from the shirts go toward funding harm reduction outreach programs.
“Every time someone wears a shirt and someone else is, like ‘Oh, what’s harm reduction?’ they get to learn about it,” Ashe said. “Just increasing that awareness and making it a conversation that people can have instead of a taboo subject is really something that’s important to our mission.”
Since September, The Everywhere Project has participated in weekly community outreach events with St. Mariam’s, a Fransiscan parish located in Whitemarsh, and Philly Unknown, a nonprofit organization providing snacks, clothing and hygiene items and harm reduction kits to Philadelphians located on Ruth Street near Orleans. The events are hosted at Love Park, and provide food, drinks, support, Narcan and drug testing strips to those in need.
The organization also hosts mobile distributions one night each month, where they travel down Broad Street from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. distributing essentials and Narcan to those in need.
“We’ll hit up to 300 people in a night and it’s kind of the most efficient way to do it,” Ashe said.
While Ashe and Shinefeld currently run the organization out of their basements for easy access to items and donations, they hope to one day operate from a van or bus, Ashe said.
“There’s something about wanting to be everywhere that prevents us from really pursuing having an office,” Ashe said. “Like, we would much rather have a van or a bus — it would be more ideal for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
While distributing resources, Ashe and Shinefeld attempt to form relationships with those they meet, they said.
After coming out for a meal at the organization’s weekly outreach in Love Park a few weeks ago, Cynthia Lewis asked to help distribute food and items because she noticed the organizations looked overwhelmed, she said.
“I’ve been helping them out now for a couple of weeks,” said Louis, a volunteer at the Love Park community outreach events. “It’s a little more rewarding for me because I used to be one of the people in the line. And since then, I’ve gotten myself together — almost two years off crack, and I gotta give something back. It feels good to help out.”
Ashe and Shinefeld prioritize offering options and solutions to people they come across, Shinefeld said.
“We try to make sure we are serving the people with dignity and respect, and are providing them with things that they need,” Shinefeld said. “Because we want to go out and make sure that we’re giving them what they need and not what we think they need.”