Our Partners: Street Works Stays Focused on Showing Up, Even Amid a Pandemic

Stories@Gilead - June 08, 2020

Thomas Gooch, Prevention Director for Street Works, has a No. 1 rule when it comes to helping people – show up.

“Don’t just tell someone to go get help with a drug problem,” says Thomas. “Have lunch with that person or get a cup of coffee.”

Street Works provides free HIV and hepatitis C testing and support. This includes medical case management, housing and early intervention in Nashville – an area disproportionately affected by the dual opioid and hepatitis C epidemics. The organization also introduced and runs the first state-authorized syringe service program in Tennessee. The needle exchange program provides services to treat and counsel people who use drugs.

“For me, my job does not feel like work. I’m serving the communities I grew up in,” says Thomas. “We have seen firsthand how the opioid epidemic has fueled the rise in hepatitis C infections. We help up to 1,000 people every month, but we are determined to do even more than we are doing.”

In late 2019, Street Works began to increase its support services with funding from Gilead’s HepConnect initiative, a five-year, multimillion-dollar effort to address the growing rates of hepatitis C in the greater Appalachia region of the United States. The organization hired more staff, extended daily hours of operation, and purchased critical supplies such as cotton swabs and alcohol pads. A newly hired linkage-to-care navigator has been able to connect 10 times more people than before to various care options.

Just as Street Works started to extend its much-needed support, earlier this year, a tornado ripped through Nashville and destroyed the organization’s workspace. Street Works was left with nowhere to meet. 

Thomas and his team have continued to go into communities to meet people where they are, and have set up a system to ensure continued access to clean syringes amid the aftermath of the tornado, as well as from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas has been with Street Works for a decade and sees the growing impact the organization has on the communities in Nashville. Over the years, Street Works has collected hundreds of thousands of used syringes and provided just as many clean ones.

He says what is most important now is continuing to find creative ways to show up for people in need.

“It’s crucial to keep educating communities and to ensure the conversations occur, whether that’s through text messages or social media platforms,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how you reach people – it just matters that you do.”

Photo: Thomas Gooch (far right), pictured with other Street Works staff, is the Prevention Director for the nonprofit, which provides free HIV and hepatitis C testing and support.