Evelyn Milan is VOCAL about the need for drug users, particulary women drug users, to get the care and services they need and deserve. Evelyn explains, “In our society, women are the ones, still, who take care of everyone else, first. That’s why I want to make sure VOCAL is a place where women feel loved and respected and cared for.” Evelyn coined the term “intergenerational AIDS” at a Women in Harm Reduction conference in 1996. Generations of her family were devastated by the AIDS crisis and she immediately recognized the injustice of a disease that disproportionately affected poor people of color and gay men where she lived, on the Lower East Side of NYC.
Evelyn engaged in harm reduction long before many of us had ever heard of the term. She went with her brother to shooting galleries on the Lower East Side and after seeing a jar of shared, used, syringes in water turned pink from blood, she started bringing sterile syringes from her job as a phlebotomist to give out to injectors.
A turning point in her life was when her brother, who was living with AIDS, made her promise she would attend his funeral. At that point, she had lost numerous cousins to AIDS and would never attend their funerals because of shame and stigma from her own drug use. She entered a drug treatment facility, but they threw her out when they insisted she leave her husband because they thought he was enabling her, and she refused. Evelyn wanted to be there for her brother, however, she knew as she kept using she would not be able to keep her promise. In her words, Evelyn “made a quality decision to surrender her addiction, not to man, but to God, after having a spiritual encounter which enabled her to stop using drugs.” Luckily, Evelyn met a harm reduction advocate that introduced her to the term “needle exchange”. She finally had a name for the practice she’d been doing for years. She soon got a job at one of the first legal syringe exchange programs in New York City and never looked back. By providing syringe exchange and harm reduction services to other drug users, Evelyn was able to stop using drugs and be there to support her brother until his death.
Evelyn is considered an icon in the field of harm reduction, having worked at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, Positive Health Project, and CitiWide Harm Reduction (now BOOM!Health). When she interviewed for the position of Harm Reduction Coordinator at VOCAL, she saw the need at VOCAL so she prayed, “God, this place needs me. Please allow me to serve your people there. Please let them hire me.” Her prayers were answered. She, in turn, answered ours, and the prayers of so many of our participants every day. Evelyn is a deeply spiritual person who is also a Chaplain, acupuncturist, and everyday healer. Evelyn reminds us that we all deserve to be loved.
Meet Evelyn at our She’s So VOCAL Gala on June 18th. Please buy your tickets now for this special event celebrating women, like Evelyn, who have dedicated their lives and careers to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the drug war, and mass incarceration.
You can also toast the accomplishments of Evelyn, and our other women leaders by sponsoring the event or buying a journal ad in their honor.