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When Jude Solano was growing up in Pueblo in the 1970s and ’80s, her hometown boasted a thriving multicultural community, many of whom were employed by the local steel mill. But when the price of steel tanked, leading to the bankruptcy of Colorado Fuel and Iron in 1990, the city hit hard times, creating an environment that the opioid crisis exploited to devastating results: In 2016, Pueblo County experienced 38 overdose deaths, the most in the Centennial State.
Solano eventually became a registered nurse in Denver and San Francisco before attending graduate school and learning about harm reduction—a public-health strategy that focuses on lessening social (stigma, houselessness, and food insecurity) and physical impacts of drug use. In 2017, Solano returned to Pueblo to put what she’d learned into practice, co-founding the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association (SCHRA). The nonprofit has since helped more than 3,000 Puebloans find a way out of addiction through medical assistance, food and clothing provisions, education, and employment opportunities.
In February, the organization will build on those successes with the opening of the Charles and Helen Solano Bessemer Wellness Center. While the Pueblo area is home to dozens of addiction support programs, none of them are as expansive as SCHRA’s 14,700-square-foot center. Named in honor of Solano’s parents and funded in part through a $975,000 grant from the city, the facility will not only treat drug use but also offer a range of services designed to help people emerge from addiction prepared to lead fulfilling lives. “The system of health care wants to throw more money at treatment,” Solano says, “but treatment doesn’t mean much without those basic human needs.” Here, Solano explains three facets of SCHRA’s new facility.
Inside the Center
“Those who can’t access fresh food shouldn’t have to turn to the cheap, processed stuff,” Solano says. She hopes to partner with a grocer to supply organic produce to an on-site market, which will sit adjacent to a demo kitchen so patrons can learn how to make healthy meals with the grains and greens they’ve picked up. “We’ll also have a rooftop garden, where we’ll show people how to grow and harvest food,” she says.
Health Care Wing
Elevate Healthcare and Front Range Clinic will provide medication, such as methadone for those battling opioid dependence, while Care on Location will provide telehealth services. “Cleanliness is a part of health, too,” Solano adds. “We have free showers and locker rooms, a laundromat, and fresh clothing.”
“Holistic wellness isn’t just about physical health but also a sustainable lifestyle,” Solano says. “And education is a big part of that.” To start, the center will be equipped with a computer lab and a small library. SCHRA also plans to invite speakers to give talks on financial literacy and career development topics such as budgeting and saving, drafting a resumé and cover letter, and interviewing for jobs.